May 03, 2013

Day of Silence is difficult -- it's supposed to be

This guest post by Emma Petersky looks at the Day of Silence and offers a challenge to organizers and participants alike.

Last week was the Day of Silence. A few words to those who participated: This day is supposed to be difficult. You should struggle. You should be frustrated. This day is about being audacious, defiant and most of all, empathetic. You are an important proponent of change and you matter. Anyone can participate in the Day of Silence, but the only person you can change is yourself. You have the power to be not just a better person, but an amazing human being.

Anyone can participate in the Day of Silence, but the only person you can change is yourself.

I have been organizing the Day of Silence since I was in the 7th grade. I started with a bundle of crumpled flyers underneath my arm, awkwardly written, that were painfully tossed into garbage cans when given out. Over the years, I have accumulated more wisdom and experienced more much more heartbreak in concurrence with this event. One cannot convince a student to stop being homophobic or transphobic overnight. We have been influenced by systems and institutions of oppression that teach us, from a young age, to celebrate that which is heteronormative and gender binary. As an activist, I cannot just scream the same, ineffective message to my peers that they have heard their entire lives; “Don’t be a bully”.

Instead, we must deconstruct our social norms of hate, ignorance and hostility towards queer youth. We must no longer demean, patronize or belittle the complexity of gender or sexual identity. This is not an easy task; it cannot be pre-packaged and sold. It cannot be taught in a classroom or preached from an intercom.

We as individuals must become both the educators and pupils, the sages and warriors, “to be the change that we want to see in the world”.

My generation is fueled by communication; however, pixels on a screen are not enough to make us change. We are influenced the most by our friends and by those we look up to, which often makes organizing the Day of Silence very difficult for those in schools with stringent cliques of oppressive motivation. To be a successful activist, you must boldly approach those who are different from you and reach out to students of all social groups. Diversity is the key to revolution. Not all of us can be brave. But we can hope. Hope cannot be bullied. Hope is a suit of armor that is embedded in our skin. It cannot be washed away by hate. Sometimes, we forget this as young people. So, as Harvey Milk said, “You gotta give them hope”. Our goal should not be to create safe space. It should be to create liberating space. And we shouldn’t have to settle for life to get better after High School. Emma Petersky is a student, activist, and educator living on the Eastside of Seattle, Washington. She is dual-enrolled as a Junior at Interlake Senior High School and as a Freshman Bellevue College. In her High School, she is the co-president of her school's Queer Straight Alliance. Outside of school, she is a facilitator of a queer youth discussion and support group called B-GLAD (Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Adolescent Drop-In). She is also a professional public speaker and peer educator to reteach gender and sexuality through the organizations OUTSpoken Speakers Bureau and Youth Eastside Services. She considers her most important work to be her position on the Board of Directors of the non-profit ThreeWings. In the future, she would like to either a social worker, a K-12 teacher, or a writer.

Brian Murphy

About Brian Murphy

Brian G Murphy is the online strategies manager for GLSEN -- The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

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