Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. From the first-ever Day of Silence at the University of Virginia in 1996, to the organizing efforts in over 8,000 middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the country in 2008, its textured history reflects its diversity in both numbers and reach.
Here's a brief history.
1996 - The Day of Silence is born. Students organized the first Day of Silence, its original name, at the University of Virginia. With over 150 students participating, those involved felt it was a great success. The Day of Silence received extensive local press coverage and a positive response from the UVA community members, motivating Maria Pulzetti to take the Day of Silence nationally.
1997 - From one, to one hundred, National Day of Silence takes off With a web page and much dedication, Pulzetti and then 19-year-old Jessie Gilliam, developed the project to be used in schools across the country. It was renamed the National Day of Silence, and that year nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. Some schools in Australia heard about the project and modeled a similar day for Australian schools.
1998 - The Day keeps growing, the Project begins Pulzetti and Gilliam realized they could not expand the National Day of Silence alone, so they organized a team of regional coordinators who could assist schools better by working with and understanding local networks. Expanding from a one-day vow of silence to include additional actions and educational events, the Day of Silence was officially inaugurated. That year, for the first time in a recognized number, students in high schools joined the organizing efforts, helping double the number of participating schools to over 200.
1999-2001 - More people, more time, a message of unity sets in Through the sponsorship of Advocates for Youth, Gilliam worked part-time over the summer of 1999 to maintain and expand the Day of Silence. A first in the project's history, a team of volunteers met for a weekend in Boston to discuss strategy and develop future plans towards assisting schools. The Day of Silence continued to support high schools, colleges and universities around the country with volunteers led by then 18-year-old Chloe Palenchar, as the National Project Coordinator. Over 300 high schools participated that year.
2001 - GLSEN developed a proposal to become the official organizational sponsor of the Day of Silence and provide new funding, staff and volunteers. GLSEN developed a first-ever Leadership Team of high school students to support local high school organizers around the country and a partnership with the United States Student Association, to ensure colleges and universities receive equal support.
2002 - Making noise, making history In what has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools, the April 10th Day of Silence was organized by students in more than 1,900 schools across the country, with estimated participation of more than 100,000 students. Representative Eliot Engel introduces the first ever resolution on the Day of Silence in Congress, which received support of 29 co-signers; additionally, Governor Gray Davis of California issued an official proclamation making April 10, 2002 the National Day of Silence. Local Day of Silence® organizing efforts appear in over fifty media stories across the country, including USA Today, MSNBC, CNN, Voice of America and a live broadcast on NPR. Breaking the Silence rallies are organized with tremendous success in Albany, NY, Kalamazoo, MI, Missoula, MT, Ft. Lauderdale & Sarasota, FL, Eugene, OR, Boulder, CO and Washington DC, among other places.
2008 - Last year’s Day of Silence on April 25 was held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old eighth-grade student in Oxnard, California, was shot and killed by a 14-year-old classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. Hundreds of thousands of students at more than 8,000 schools participated. Their efforts were supported by hundreds of community-based "Breaking the Silence" events at the end of the day. Together, concerned students created a powerful call to action in order to prevent future tragedies.
There are simple steps that all schools can take to make schools safer for all students, to end the endemic name-calling and harassment that LGBT students and their allies face every day. We need to act now so that Lawrence King and the countless others who endure anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment will not be forgotten, and so that we can create an enduring legacy of safer schools for all in their names.
Students handed out "Speaking Cards" which said:
"Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-callinmg, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?"
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