A quiet protest: In defense of Day of Silence

By Alvin Kim

Every year in the third week of April, students around the country take a day-long vow of silence and show their support for victims of LGBT identity-based bullying on the ominously titled National Day of Silence. And every year, I hear various counter-arguments as to the productivity of Macalester’s participation:“Why are we being silent when we should be making noise?” “You know you’re not actually doing anything right? I mean, what does spreading awareness really mean?” In light of recent vandalism attacks, I plan again to take a day-long pledge of silence in support of all victims of bullying, in protest against the lack of institutional response prevalent in almost all high schools, and in blatant refusal of the idea that my participation means nothing. Though some may not realize it—as the incident received only a small paragraph in the Daily Piper and an article in The Mac Weekly—some unknown person or group used paint on the graffiti wall outside Doty to publicly attack the queer community on campus. Even more may not realize that this is not the first but second occurrence of such hate this semester alone, the first depicting two men having sex with the caption, “Go Away Fag.” When I brought up the incident to many of my friends, I received a variety of apathetic responses: “Oh yeah. I read something about that. Weird.” and “I don’t think it’s really a big deal. I mean it’s probably just some guy who can’t come out of the closet.” Here at Macalester, we take a lot for granted. No, this is not meant as another guilt-tripping speech about privilege, but let’s be honest. There’s a lot to be grateful for. Compared to hundreds of colleges throughout the country, we’re conscious and respectful, and as a gay Asian kid that went to an all guys’ prep school in the South, I can say with confidence that I’m happy and thankful. But at a school where we talk about social inequality and institutionalized hegemony, I can’t help feeling like we’re falling asleep. I understand that these incidents of vandalism do not reflect the views of the majority of Mac students, but I can assure you it is not just an isolated incident. These public displays of hate have happened every year for at least the last three years, with two in this semester alone, and I don’t care if it was one person or a whole multitude of aggressors.The point is that someone each year has felt comfortable enough to express hate against gay people solely because they are gay. So why is nobody saying anything? The administrative response was quick and subtle: a small caption in the Daily Piper explained that security had photographed the damage and painted over it within 24 hours. As a queer student on campus, however, I’m annoyed. Most people continue to believe that these incidents are rare and unimportant. They claim that students at Macalester accept queer identities as a whole and that this attack is just someone being stupid. But I point out again that it doesn’t matter if this person is in the minority, they still felt comfortable enough to be that stupid. This person expressed hate and continues to get away with it year after year with little to no response from the student body. Are we really that accepting, or is it just easier to be indifferent, apathetic, and paint over this act of verbal violence as if nothing has happened? To the students who continue to question my involvement on National Day of Silence, how do you connect with victims of LGBT bullying? This is not to say that no one at Macalester is active when it comes to issues of equality (take the marriage amendment rally for example), but I do believe in the importance of “raising awareness” and fighting passive culture at a most basic level, which can at times involve a degree of silence. Last year was my first time participating in the day of support, and though it may have been naive of me, I was stunned with how difficult it was. I emailed my professors beforehand to warn them of my pledge. Most were supportive, but in a language learning class, it’s virtually impossible to participate while staring at your partner with sympathetic eyes of apology. When I traveled in the mass hordes of students transitioning from one class to the next, I found myself searching for the most isolated routes, the paths that would allow me to avoid as much eye contact as possible and force me to look down at the ground or my phone in silent contemplation. It’s true; this isn’t what I had in mind when trying to fight homophobia on a national basis, but for me it was incredibly beneficial. Having felt mind-dizzyingly empowered by my WGSS first-year course, I thought that my high school life was long gone and that silly issues of LGBT bullying were no longer relevant to my life. Day of Silence helped me stay in touch with my past self and the real reason why I came to a place like Macalester. I wanted to experience a place where homophobia was unacceptable and to learn how to make that environment possible in a place like Tennessee. I plan to renew my pledge of silence this year because I want to commemorate these same pursuits: to remind others that we still have homophobia, even at a place like Macalester, and to acknowledge my past experience as a queer high school student in the heart of the Bible Belt. National Day of Silence is not my only act of protest against inequality, but it is an integral part of my experience at Macalester. I understand that being silent is hard, but that’s precisely the point. Kids—whether queer or not—feel this way every day, and it is a direct result of apathy and indifference within the student body. We have an obligation to speak up against homophobia, and on Day of Silence, I feel closer to that bullied high school student than I ever have watching security guards paint over an act of hate. Silence is not an act of apathy. It is a protest against indifference and for me a constant reminder of our beginnings in the LGBT movement. Stay strong. Fight the fight. refresh –>