Ask Lambda Legal – The Right to Join in Day of Silence

I’m in high school, and I want to participate in GLSEN’s National Day of Silence (DOS). I’m out to my friends, but I’m not sure my teachers and school administration would approve – can I get in trouble?
First, congratulations on being out to your friends – it’s wonderful to accept yourself and feel supported by your friends and peers! Participating in the Day of Silence is a powerful way to raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in schools and to help combat bullying and harassment. During DOS, which was April 17 this year, students across the country vow to take some form of silence during the school day. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) provides materials to students who wish to participate, as well as materials for schools that want to support participating students.

“GLSEN’s Day of Silence has become the single largest student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” says Andy Marr, public relations manager for GLSEN.

Lambda Legal’s Help Desk experiences a major spike in calls and emails from students each year around the Day of Silence. Many of the students who reach out to us are wondering whether they are allowed to participate, and others have actually been told by their school that they cannot. Lambda Legal has advocated in more than 100 schools around the nation to help students who had initially been barred from participating in the Day of Silence. In most of these cases, the schools responded to our advocacy and allowed the students to participate.

Last year, a student named Josh Garza from McAllen, Texas, reached out to our Help Desk because he was stopped from establishing a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at his school. One of the main events that the club wanted to work on was organizing participation in the Day of Silence.

Despite many attempts to speak to school and district administration about establishing the club, ultimately Josh and his friend were told that the school would not recognize the GSA for fear of sending a message to parents that they “endorsed” the club and its activities. Lambda Legal reached out to the school on Josh’s behalf, letting school officials know that Josh and his friend had a right to establish a GSA and participate in the Day of Silence. 

Within a week of receiving our letter, the school changed its position and decided to let Josh officially establish the GSA. This year, Josh’s senior year, he and the other students in his GSA enthusiastically organized a vibrant Day of Silence at their school.

For more information, visit www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/youth. If you have any questions or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336, or see lambdalegal.org/help.

Christopher Clark is the youth and schools program strategist for Lambda Legal, the national organization that works to secure full civil rights for LGBT people.

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