Young People are Powerful: GLSEN’s Day of Silence and Your Right to Protest

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April 17, 2017
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Every year, students all over the country participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence to take a stand against the bullying, harassment and discrimination of young LGBTQ people in schools. This year, on April 21, students will exercise their right to remain silent during the school day — a protest that demonstrates how anti-LGBTQ behavior in all forms silences students.

This message demonstrated by the simple act of being silent helps to get important conversations going about the harmful effects of homophobia and transphobia directed at students. This peaceful protest is a powerful exercise of free speech rights, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and case law brought by students whose schools tried to silence them.

Day of Silence is also an important demonstration of solidarity and support for LGBTQ students.

While LGBTQ rights, visibility and acceptance have come a long way recently, there are still many school districts where students do not feel safe enough to be open about who they are for fear of harassment, violence, or a combination of the two.

Learn More: National Day of Silence: The Freedom to Speak (Or Not), Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Lambda Legal

According to GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ students, 85.2%, were verbally harassed at school; 59.6% of LGBTQ students experienced sexual harassment and of the students who reported incidents of harassment and violence, 63.5% said their school did nothing about it or told them to ignore what had happened. This is unacceptable.

And the bullying behavior doesn’t just come from classmates, or even school administrators.

Students, specifically transgender and gender-nonconforming (GNC) students, have been singled out and targeted by politicians in our local and national government. From the introduction and passage of mean-spirited laws preventing transgender students from access to facilities consistent with their gender identities, to the reversal of important guidelines that helped schools better understand and respect transgender students – it’s no wonder young people are upset.

All of these efforts to hamper full inclusion and diversity at schools have real consequences on the education and health of LGBTQ and GNC students. LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students who report feeling unsafe at school are more likely to miss classes and skip entire days of school, are more likely to have poor academic performance and self-esteem, more likely to be disciplined at school and have increased levels of depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Students participating in Day of Silence are doing something so important. They are shining a light on the bullying of LGBTQ and GNC students, and not letting it go unnoticed or unaddressed and that is powerful. At Lambda Legal we recognize that students are doing their part and we stand at the ready to do ours.

Lambda Legal is GLSEN's legal partner for Day of Silence.

Our Help Desk staff and attorneys stand ready to respond to students whose schools interfered with their rights to peaceful protest. If you or someone you know is having a problem participating in the Day of Silence, or if your school is simply not respecting your rights, reach out and let us know at glsen.org/day-of-silence/contact. We are here for you, today and always.

If you need more information about students’ rights in school, visit lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights and check under "LGBTQ Teens & Young Adults."

If you have any questions, have been discriminated against or know others who have been discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or lambdalegal.org/help.