By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
Today, in schools across the United States, students are taking a vow of silence to draw attention to the silencing of LGBTQ youth due to bullying, harassment, and homophobia.
I first participated in Day of Silence in 1998 (two years after the first event in Virginia), as a high school freshman in McMinnville, Ore. I didn’t identify as queer back then, but I had a lot of lesbian, gay, and bisexual friends. One of these friends, Heather, showed up to our Geometry class more quiet than usual. She was carrying a small card that explained her silence. It seemed like a pretty good reason, so I decided to join the silent protest in solidarity.
Five years later, I am sitting in my women’s college dining hall with my roommate Kate. I’ve decided it isn’t cheating to communicate via pen and paper, so I pass notes instead of chatting. Still, the relative quiet and the purpose of the day inspires a thought to rise to the surface. One many times mulled over, but as of yet unspoken.
I’d always been an ally to LGBTQ people. But I was starting to realize that “ally” wasn’t entirely accurate. My friends and classmates knew this, but didn’t say anything, figuring I’d work it out eventually. But as I struggled to relate to my Cosmopolitan-reading, boy-crazy friends while crushing hard on a super cute senior, the more clear it became.
“I think I liked the ladies,” I wrote in my notebook, and passed it over to Kate.
She didn’t even feign surprise.
It was my first step in a long journey toward living “out loud” — an expression now so overused it seems cliché. And yet, 10 years later, it’s a guiding principle in my life as I strive for authenticity, openness, and connection. It’s not just being out as a queer (and now trans) person. It’s about being throwing open the closet doors that keep the world out and my secrets in. I believe that our stories have power — kept hidden and under pressure that force can be destructive, but when released they have the capacity to create connections and heal.
While Day of Silence is a personal anniversary of my decision to no longer be silent, it is also an important reminder that there are still unheard voices. Whether you’re observing a day-long vow or you can only take a moment, stop and think about who you aren’t hearing. Who is afraid to speak, who is being silenced, who is at the margins — their voice too far away to reach you? Create space for those still struggling to find the words. Train your ear on their whispers. Let them know they are heard.