The Day of Silence is an annual day of action to protest the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, and their supporters. Students and teachers take a day-long vow of silence to symbolically represent the silencing of LGBT students and their supporters.
Beginning in 1996, the Day of Silence is held each year in April. The 2008 Day of Silence was held on April 25. The 2009 Day of Silence will be held on April 17.
GLSEN estimated that over 450,000 students at more than 4,000 schools participated in the 2006 Day of Silence.
During their period of silence, participating students may hand out printed cards explaining the nature of their protest.
This may be supplemented by additional texts or images. Some school organizers also create or purchase pins or stickers to put on lockers and t-shirts. Others dress in all black, with rainbow ribbons or gags to emphasize the cause and their presence. Also if allowed, special announcements during the day allow the event to be recognized by the school.
As with most political actions, there is passionate ongoing debate as to the specific strategies and goals. Organizers encourage Day of Silence participants to use the national template, but do support variation among participating groups. While some organizers focus the mission statement of their Day of Silence to ending institutionalized discrimination, others decide to make their message more encompassing. The Gay-Straight Alliance of Baldwinsville Central School in Baldwinsville, New York and Winston Churchill High School of Potomac, Maryland, for example, have made their mission statements for the Day of Silence "To send the message that hate is not tolerated" which they consider a more personal and less politically focused sentiment. Other groups focus on the day as an opportunity for the participating students to strengthen their own personal awareness of discrimination and increase their solidarity with the LGBT community.
The April 25, 2008 "speaking cards" read:
"Silent for Lawrence King: Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment. This year’s DOS is held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15 year-old student who was killed in school because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?"
The following year Pulzetti and then 19-year-old Jesse Gilliam developed the project to be used in schools nationally. It was renamed the National Day of Silence and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. Beginning in 1998 the day was promoted by the Day of Silence Project with double the participation of the last year.
In 2000, Gilliam, Palenchar, then GLSEN National Student Organizer Chris Tuttle, developed the proposal for the day to become an official project of GLSEN. GLSEN developed its first-ever "student leadership team" as part of the Day of Silence.
In recent years, the Day of Silence has been reported as "the largest one-day student-led grassroots action on LGBT rights in American history"
In 2008, the Day of Silence was held in memory of Lawrence King, an eighth grader from E.O. Green Middle School who was shot by fellow classmate Brandon McInerney.
Other organizations, including the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Mission America, Traditional Values Coalition, Americans for Truth, and Liberty Counsel, opposed the Day of Silence in 2008 by forming a coalition urging parents to keep their kids home on the DOS if their school was observing it. At least one school saw more than a third of its students skip school on that school's DOS in 2008. The Rev. Ken Hutcherson, the principal supporter of those who skipped school, said, "We want education, not indoctrination." Previously, complaints were made that, "the two previous Days of Silence ... had coerced participation and subjected to harassment students who wanted to stay neutral. In another locality, a student said, "I really am uncomfortable with that stuff, and I thought it was wrong they were going to have a gay day and we can't pray.
Legally, schools cannot be penalized for refusing to observe the Day of Silence. Similarly, students have a constitutional right to participate in the Day of Silence, though they must speak if called on by a teacher.