By Jamie Lattin, Staff Writer
// A congregation of students donning red and wearing stickers gathered in the front quad on a bright, crisp spring morning, prepared for a silent protest that somehow spoke volumes.
Members of the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) and various other students at Acalanes participated in a student-organized national event known as the Day of Silence on April 10 to call attention to and non-violently protest harassment and violence against the LGBTQ community.
The event was organized and facilitated by QSA presidents, Helen Kleinsmith, and Stephanie Liu. Those taking part in the Day of Silence wore red, met in the front quad that morning, and were given stickers broadcasting their participation. More than 40 students participated.
QSA organizes the event annually to protest the oppression of LGBTQ individuals.
“It’s pretty much to bring awareness to people who are oppressed because of their sexual or gender identity and people that have been either killed or put into camps in various countries because being gay is a crime. It’s raising awareness for those voices that are lost to things that are beyond their control,” Kleinsmith said.
Several LGBTQ students and straight allies chose to participate to show support for the community.
“I participated in the Day of Silence because I thought that it was really interesting and I wanted to contribute to the LGBTQ community. Also, it reminded me of when I was still in the closet a long time ago, because I felt like I couldn’t express myself the way I could’ve when I was in the closet,” sophomore Ryland Nella said.
Despite supporting the concept of the day, some individuals declined to participate because of the academic difficulties participation would create.
“I’m not participating in part because I would find it too difficult to attend school without speaking,” sophomore Megan Baginski said. “The LGBTQ community still faces horrific acts of violence and hate too often. I’m bi myself, and I’m grateful that in our very liberal community I’ve never faced anything like that. However, I still see the great importance of the day.”
Many students, including Baginski, chose simply to wear red to show support while avoiding academic difficulties.
QSA president Helen Kleinsmith spoke to these difficulties. Although students have the right to participate in the Day of Silence during breaks, they do not have the right to remain silent if a teacher asks them to speak in class.
“There are a few teachers who are not understanding of the concept and that sometimes don’t really understand why that student is unable to participate that day. It can make it really upsetting for a student when the teacher or another student tries to pressure them into speaking,” Kleinsmith said.
It is also virtually impossible for teachers to participate.
“One year I did kind of do it. I had students basically teach, and I had notes, but that was really hard, and that was 50 minutes, so it was a little bit more doable. An hour and a half with a teacher silent would be tough,” QSA advisor Erik Honda said.
The first Day of Silence was organized by students at the University of Virginia in 1996. It became a national event one year later and was ultimately adopted by the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
According to Kleinsmith, the Day of Silence has occurred at Acalanes for at least 10 years. Due to scheduling complications, the event was recognized two days before the National Day of Silence, which falls on April 12.
Aside from this minimal change, the event at Acalanes held fast to the principles of the original Day of Silence and to the mission of GLSEN. The GLSEN website states the purpose of the day clearly: “to highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people at school.”
The silencing of Acalanes students strongly conveys this message.
“It’s feeling the way it would be to have to keep that quietness for a whole day. There is something kind of powerful about that emotionally and empathetically,” Honda said.