Why I stay silent

Trevor '18 is a co-leader of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Peddie. The club focuses on raising awareness about issues in the LGBTQ+ community by hosting discussions throughout the year and holding an annual coffeehouse to raise funds for the Trevor Project. The club strives to make the LGBTQ+ community on campus feel included and safe. 

The Day of Silence started in 1996 at the University of Virginia, and now takes place across 8,000 middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the country every year (this year it happens to fall on April 21). On this day, students (who have most likely informed their teachers that they are participating) take a vow of silence for the school day. They do it not to get out of speaking in class, but to represent the silence that LGBTQ+ students in schools all across the country feel, whether it is through bullying, harassment or discrimination. According to one study, 9 out of every 10 LGBTQ+ students experience harassment at school. Many feel vulnerable and excluded. The atmosphere at Peddie, while it is not perfect, aspires to be inclusive and respective of the entire community. Yet even here, I believe that the Day of Silence is relevant.

Now, some ask, "Why there isn’t a Day of Silence for all bullying?" That’s a fair question. Well, that would be a great idea that I would certainly support. And just like that hypothetical Day of Silence would be, this is an act of conscience and solidarity. And I truly believe in this day. For example, my freshman year on the Day of Silence, I went through the whole day not speaking, twisted my ankle during track practice, went to the hospital and still didn’t even talk to the doctors. That’s dedication right there. I’m not asking for that type of commitment, but whether it is for one class or for the whole day, you’d go a long way in really being able to show support.

So why do I do it? Well, to tell you the truth, it’s mainly because of one shameful reason: I used to be a homophobe. This is incredibly embarrassing to disclose this truth about my past, but I feel it is necessary to confess what I now regret to have believed. I didn’t understand the idea of anyone being gay. I don’t remember when it started but I do remember why. You see, I’m not really that good at having opinions about subjects I don’t know much about. And I’m not trying to get political here, but back then I was a hardcore Republican, and not that Republicans are homophobes, but I associated more with parts of that platform rather than actual human beings affected—their lives—their love—their feelings. For example, when the Supreme Court in 2013 decided to give gay and lesbian couples in certain states the right to marry, I recall being confused—surely they were wrong. And on Revisit Day, I walked the hallway inside the athletic center, noticed the GSA booth, and couldn’t understand the popularity. But sometime into my freshman year, I started to question those beliefs. I thought to myself, why am I so opposed to homosexuality? Try as I might, I couldn’t find an answer and that’s when I had an epiphany that I believe I should have had long ago. Eventually, my sophomore year, I started going to the GSA meetings, listening to the points being made, and I was pleasantly surprised to get an email late that spring, letting me know that I had been named a leader of the GSA. So I went from a full-fledged homophobe to the leader of the GSA, which is a pretty drastic conversion.

So that’s my story. It is by no means a pretty one. I still feel the shame of those days, and I wish I had just questioned the reasons behind my beliefs sooner. But that’s why I am all about the Day of Silence: because students all over this country, not necessarily at Peddie, may feel afraid and excluded simply based on who they are. For people who don’t identify as LGBTQ+, it may be hard to appreciate their struggle, to understand what some may go through on a daily basis. So, we need events like the Day of Silence to show that we are there, that we do empathize, and that we want to help and put an end to this type of harassment.

It may seem strange to even ask for a Day of Silence at a place like Peddie. Isn’t Peddie a really inclusive and open place? I agree completely with this question. We are, compared to a lot of places, a welcoming community. Which is why we have an even greater obligation to stand in solidarity like this. We are privileged to be in a place where we can freely speak our minds, stand our ground and be silent for causes. There are a lot of schools where this would not be possible. And since we have this ability, we have the responsibility. By showing support for those in the LGBTQ+ community all across this country who are bullied, we are able to empathize with their struggle. In a broader sense, this day is about empathy. In the future, I hope there is a Day of Silence for everyone who feels marginalized in their schools, in their communities. It is a fundamental part of being a human being to try and understand the world through the eyes of others. Only then can we truly act to change the world for the better. So I ask everyone reading this to consider joining me and others in taking a vow of silence on April 21. For it is by losing our voices that we will be able to speak up for those who need them.