On April 15, 1996, Maria Pulzetti organized 150 of her fellow University of Virginia students to take a stand against bullying and harassment in a statement against those who wished to marginalize LGBTQ individuals and so mute their growing chorus of demands to be recognized in a society who wished them to silently disappear.
For Pulzetti and her classmates, the day rendered society's desire powerless through visible solidarity around a brilliantly simple plan that used silence as an emphatic voice.
Twenty years later and according to The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network ( GLSEN )since 2001, the official organizational sponsor of the Day of Silencea worldwide alliance of students from middle school to college numbering in the hundreds of thousands take part in a pledge to "be silent to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools."
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ) and Lambda Legal offer their notable support to students who want to take part.
The ACLU sends a letter to the principals and superintendents of schools and school districts across the nation alerting them to one of the "largest annual student-led actions in the country."
It offers advice on how a participating student who hands out "speaking cards" with the reasons for their silence written on them can still "meet their academic responsibilities without speaking."
"As evidenced by recent tragedies, awareness of and attention to this issue is needed now more than ever," the ACLU writes. "Because students who are targeted for anti-gay or anti-transgender bullying often do not identify as LGBT, the Day of Silence represents a peaceful protest of a problem that affects all students no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity."
In case such appeals are met with disdain, the ACLU goes on to note that "student speech that promotes the fair and equal treatment of LGBT people is constitutionally protected political speech."
Meanwhile Lambda Legal is on hand to inform students about their right to participate in the Day of Silence and the remedies available to them if they meet with opposition from teachers or principals.
"If a public school wants to restrict student expression because it fears disruption, school officials have to show facts that reasonably lead them to believe that the speech will cause a substantial disruption to the school," Lambda Legal notes. "A school can't just assume that the Day of Silence, or speech related to it, will disrupt the school."
While Lambda Legal and the ACLU offer both legal rationale and remedies, GLSEN provides the emotional cause.
Its 2016 video Whose Side Are You On opens with a statement from vitriolic anti-LGBT radio talk show host Linda Harvey. Her organization Mission America has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center ( SPLC ) as a hate group.
There is a reason for that.
"The Day of Silence has become a central showpiece in this homosexual agenda in our schools," Harvey states. "It encourages sympathy for homosexuality which is wrong. They claim that homosexuals have been routinely silenced and victimized and don't have a voice."
While Harvey continues to fulminate in uniform compliance of pharisaic interpretations of Biblical precepts, GLSEN silently offers facts interspersed with pictures of students each expressing their unique and wholly individual freedom to defy Harvey's hatred of them.
"Four out of five LGBT students were bullied, harassed or assaulted last year," GLSEN notes. "80 percent of transgender students don't feel safe at school. Many LGBT students say, when they report bullying or assault, nothing is done."
The effects of such bullying are as indelible as they are devastating.
In a Harris Poll released April 14, more than half ( 52 percent ) of all LGBT adults recalled being bullied at school.
"Strikingly, by nearly two to one, 37 percent of LGBT adults say they encountered cyber bullying, when compared with 20 percent of all adults," the poll noted. "LGBT adults who have experienced bullying also report higher than average incidents of physical bullying. Three-quarters ( 75 percent ) say they have experienced physical harm when compared with 68 percent of all respondents.
In Illinois, organizations like the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance have been fighting to make sure something is done even if it is one school district at a time. Alliance staff members spent April 15 fanned out across the city distributing Day of Silence kits put together by the organization's youth committee for school Gay Straight Alliances ( GSA's ).
The youth committee also developed a curriculum designed to spark ongoing discussions "about bullying, harassment and the silencing of our various identities."
In Chicago, the Center on Halsted collaborated with organizations like the Alliance in order to conclude the Day of Silence with a traditional Night of Noise. They opened up third-floor lobby and Hoover-Leppen Theatre for an evening of art, food, selfie opportunities and an open mic. free-for-all of poetry, song and declarations of individual empowerment.
Jezibel is a sophomorepart of a group of students from Lake View High School who were setting their artistic creativity towards a Day of Silence poster.
"I know a lot of people who have been affected negatively by not being able to talk out about their sexuality and how they feel especially to their families," Jezibel told Windy City Times. "So I have a personal connection with the Day of Silence. It's a very important day because were supporting everyone who can't talk out about it."
Princess Tiona was among the adults who had come to express solidarity with the students.
"I care a great deal about children so I think that it's good that we're trying to figure out what we can do to better them," Tiona said. "It seems like they single the LGBT community out for the most violent attacks. It just isn't right."
"This is a celebration of breaking the silence and being proud and here as who you are," Center Youth Program Clinician Kim Vachon stated. "The protest is important but the celebration aspect is as well. It's so poignant at this moment to be visible so the world can feel that statement that we are not hiding, ashamed or silent."