Breaking the Silence: Today and Every Day

Today marks the 16th annual Day of Silence, an event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) where students from middle school to college take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment. Looking back at my posts from previous years for and around the event, however, I have to ask myself: Are things getting better?

  • In 2008, the event was in memory of Lawrence King, the California eighth-grader shot to death by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression.
  • In 2009, some students used the event to honor the memory of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old from Springfield, Mass., who took his life just days before, after enduring constant bullying at school, including anti-LGBT attacks, even though he did not identify as gay.
  • In 2010, in a piece for Keen News Service, I asked if the U.S. Department of Education was putting enough emphasis on anti-bullying measures. (I answered “no” at the time, although I think they have stepped things up since then.) That fall, of course, the media covered a string of suicides by bullied teens, casting a greater light on the ongoing issue.
  • In 2011, I looked at the issue of free speech and court cases related to wearing t-shirts on the Day of Silence that oppose homosexuality.
  • And just days ago, a 14-year-old gay teen in Iowa died by suicide after relentless bullying—including, his family says, death threats—based on his sexuality.

Reducing bullying, and providing all children and youth with the social and emotional support they need, at home and at school, are still serious needs. We need to act at the personal, local, state, and federal levels to make this happen.

At the same time, we need to be careful not to paint LGBTQ youth simply as victims. As the video of GLSEN Student Ambassadors below shows, some LGBTQ students are taking the issue into their own hands to make a difference for themselves and others. I also wrote last fall about Amelia Roskin-Frazee, an out lesbian ninth grader from California, who launched the Make It Safe Project to send free LGBTQ-inclusive books to schools and youth shelters that need them. Just last month they donated their first international book package, to an organization in Mauritius.

Yes, LGBTQ youth need our support and help. But we can also learn much from their strength and resilience.  Things will get better if we work together to end the silence.