The silence is deafening as hundreds of Berkeley High School (BHS) students keep quiet while wearing signs around their necks. A math teacher calls on a student to answer a question on the board, only to realize she will not speak. The usual trio of voices that you hear walking down the hallway is reduced to only two, while the other stares ahead blankly. The kid that usually always interrupts the teacher with their latest fun fact is strangely silent.
On Wednesday, March 27, BHS had its annual Day of Silence. The Day of Silence recognizes and brings to light the daily discomfort that LGBTQ+ students may feel while at school.
The BHS Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) organized panels of LGBTQ+ students, along with the optional oath of silence. At the start of the day, people could choose to participate in staying silent by wearing a sign around their neck. The necklace stated in bold, black lettering: “I have taken a vow of silence today in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students who feel silenced every day due to fear of harassment, discrimination, and violence. Please think about the voices you’re not hearing today.”
The BHS GSA decided to put on a panel where queer students and faculty answered questions about their experiences at BHS. One of the questions asked, and a common question for any queer individual, was “When did you first know that you were LGBTQ+?” Panelists shared their own stories of self-discovery and exploration with answers ranging from knowing at a very young age, to one faculty member sharing that she did not know until college. The lesson to be taken away from these answers can be summed up in the words of Leo Paniagua, a panelist and GSA member, “Just because I am not presenting myself as what you want to see doesn’t mean I am any less of a person.” Another question was, “How do you want your peers to view you after coming out?” Phoebe Brady, a senior who identifies as bisexual shared, “I don’t want you to think of me as any different that what you originally viewed me as.”
Paniagua felt the need for this recognition of the queer experience was very clear. “The day of silence is important to me because I feel like even though it’s fundamentally a day of mourning, it opens up the conversation with potential allies to highlight the nuances, not just the negatives, of the modern queer life. The visibility surrounding it and how open and raw the conversations tend to get help to … create a more three-dimensional image of a queer person,” he said. Within school environments, there is a certain insecurity that comes with being a queer student. Many feel that even if you are not being harassed, you will always be separate from the larger, heteronormative society. Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community comes with its own challenges, but also a viewpoint that only you can bring to the table. The Day of Silence gives a voice to this queer perspective, ironically by “silencing” them.
The Day of Silence first began at the University of Virginia in 1996. Since then, it has increased in participation and support from all 50 states, and has even crossed borders to other countries from Russia to Singapore.
Senior Maxime Hendrikse Liu, the primary organizer of the Day of Silence, felt the main thing she would want to see changed is the culture of BHS. She explained that while there are a lot of ways that BHS is a supportive place, it still has a ways to go, adding that GSA members have heard people saying “no homo” or “that’s so gay” while walking through the halls. “We want everyone at BHS to actively commit to making the community a more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ students, rather than just assuming that it is already,” she said.