A National Day of Silence
The officers of the senior class made an appointment to see me. Their class wanted to take part in the National Day of Silence, an observance for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals “to heighten the awareness of persons being silenced about homosexual or transgender issues through political or social means, or even death.” The observation is sponsored by LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered Alliance) and students take part by remaining silent and not talking to anyone verbally or in writing for the entire day.
The students and I sat in my office and talked through their proposal. Participation was voluntary, they said, but they had met with their class and nearly everyone wanted to participate. They showed me a sample of the t-shirt they would wear, and it did not violate the school’s dress code. I expressed my concern that silence during classes would not be conducive to education. They thought about that and then came back with another proposal: They would remain silent only during their lunch period.
I was impressed. The students were concerned, sincere, and committed enough to give up their own social time to make a point. I gave my permission and my support.
And that’s when the community rose up.
By the time I got to school the next morning, I had a stack of calls from parents. Led by the ladies of the Parents’ Association, they were definitely not happy and had plenty to say about my “encouraging those kinds of beliefs.” The rumor mill was churning, and 30 minutes of silence at lunch soon morphed into a K-12 gay pride parade around the school and down Main Street. The local newspaper called as well as television stations, and thankfully all decided to downplay the incident. One parent, whom I had respected up to this point said, “If not supporting this makes me a bigot, then I’m a bigot and proud of it!” Well.
The Parents’ Association ladies came in and told me that I was not to let students be silent during lunch. I told them I doubted that I could make them talk if they didn’t want to, half expecting one of them to say, like in an old Harvey Korman sketch, “Ve haf vays to make zem talk!”
At this point, I decided I would not back down unless the Board of Education ordered me to. I simply could not rescind my approval to the seniors’ very reasonable, even admirable request.
After a few days of turmoil, the seniors made another appointment to see me. They had decided to abandon their idea. It was now causing problems for students whose parents had forbidden them to participate. It had become divisive issue for their class. So they decided it was best at the moment to let it drop. They thanked me for my support.
As they left my office, the class president turned back. “We just want you to know, Ms. T,” she said, “that the irony of this situation is not lost on us.”