Lessons Learned: The Day of Silence 2023


Keira Marckel

Day of Silence pin indicating a speaking supporter. SAGE handed out pins to students and staff at MHS the morning of May 12.

Cameron Johnson

On Friday May 12th, 2023, Middleton High School (MHS) students had the option to participate in the Day of Silence. The Day of Silence started with two college students in the 1990s, and has since spread to become a national protest. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is an American education organization working to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and to prompt LGBT cultural inclusion and awareness in K-12 schools. They also organize the day of silence. 

According to the organization, “The GLSEN Day of Silence is a national student-led demonstration where LGBTQ+ students and allies all around the country — and the world — take a vow of silence to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in schools.” 

This sentiment is illustrated with the use of silence, while also serving as a popular and easy way to protest. 

“There’s a lot of, I think, contemplation that happens when you can’t talk,” said Cy Weaver, MHS social studies teacher and Sexuality and Gender Equality (SAGE) club adviser. “In many different ways, for example, in spiritual traditions, or social justice movements, not speaking for a specified time period is not just a way of drawing attention. It’s also a way to sort of fortify yourself, and help you understand who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.” 

They also mentioned that silence imitates the weight of those who cannot speak due to their environments. Silence encapsulates several purposes in one, as it is a metaphor for not being able to express oneself due to environmental pressures, a way of drawing attention to the overall message in the protest and a way for someone to be introspective. 

When adults are present, there is seemingly less hate speech at MHS. But Weaver has heard from many students that the dynamic changes when staff are not present. 

Weaver also mentioned that language changes when adults aren’t present. Weaver described it as the “lawless land” where hate speech finds a home. This freedom of speech as it were gives rise to the type of hate speech that the Day of Silence protests against. 

An example of this concept comes from a member of SAGE club, who identifies as a gay, trans man. One day, when riding home from school on the bus, another student started asking him questions. At first, they were unbiased questions, for the purpose of further knowledge such as, “What is LGBTQ?” “What are you in that?” “How did this all happen?” 

Then the kid started making comments and questions that caused the SAGE member discomfort. Such as, “this is a guy-girl conversation,” which intentionally dismissed the SAGE member’s identity. Several similar comments were made until the SAGE member involved the Dean of Transportation to end the behavior. The SAGE member attributes this to the “lawless land” concept: “Buses were lawless. They had no rules. It was pretty much chaotic, because there were really no adults or supervision to actually keep it under control.” 

Weaver knew a student who stopped coming to school during the pandemic because of a similar incident of bullying. During the pandemic, students wore masks to school.  A group of students thought they could say whatever they wanted behind another student’s back because the masks granted the bullies a sense of anonymity. This behavior became so bad that the affected student stopped coming to school..

Weaver reflected on the situation, saying, “It’s terrible. It’s awful. That costs somebody an education. And mental stability, like that feeling of being attacked. It is frightening and unsettling.” 

SAGE’s Day of Silence brought the entire school’s attention to stories like these in an effort to curb bullying and harassment in “lawless” situations when adults are not around. The LGBTQ community has been standing up in pride to defend their right to be valued and heard.  

“We have a voice. We deserve to be here. And we will not be pushed down,” said the victim of the first story. “We are here for each other. And we deserve to be here and living in the world. And we will not be pushed down. We are LGBTQ people.” 

Sadly, not everyone is able to stand up against discrimination. That is where SAGE comes in. SAGE does several things for people. 

SAGE fulfills many different roles. It’s an advocacy group as well as a cohesive support system so people can feel emboldened to be who they are. 

“That’s what I love so much about SAGE and all the LGBTQ related things,” said the SAGE member from the bus. “It’s a place for us to be together and be ourselves. And just like, not be beaten or killed for it.”

The life of an LGBTQ person is challenging, especially without the support found within a community. SAGE is helping members to find strength together and advocate for themselves within MHS, such as with events like the Day of Silence.

“I’m not going anywhere,” the SAGE member said. “I’ll stand up tall. And I’ll stand up for everyone and also myself. And I’m not gonna let one person dictate [who I am]. I’m not gonna let anybody dictate what I believe in.”