In Defense of Silence

By Jessie Gilliam
NDOS Co-Chair

We appreciate Mr. Bill Roundy's article on "Why the National Day of Silence Sucks." We believe that speaking about what kind of activist techniques work and how to make them work is an invaluable dialogue young glbt people should engage in. There is no one day, and no one technique, that will end homophobia and create a positive world for queers, and we acknowledge that, with great sadness. However, we hope that dialogue and criticism about activist techniques will be informed.

We noticed a few factual errors in Mr. Roundy's article that we wished to address. First of all, members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Union of the University of Virginia, and not "B-GLAD," started the Day of Silence. By looking at our web page, http://www.youth-guard.org/ndos, you can find this information easily.

Secondly, we noted a few misconceptions in the article about the National Day of Silence that we wish to clarify.

The first misconception is that only lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people participate in the event. In fact, we designed this event to be a major outreach event to allies. At the university of Virginia, we would estimate more than 2/3 of the 200 people who have participated in the National Day of Silence were heterosexual allies. We even had the Intersorority Council of our school actively participate and endorse the NDOS. The NDOS is not to play "let's isolate the queer." It is to demonstrate how many allies we do have, those of which usually remain in the silent majority every day, and who on this day and days following, begin to think about the lives of lgbt people.

The second is that we are "silent." On the National Day of Silence, people pass out cards and wear stickers explaining:

In essence, by passing out just these cards, and not speaking on any other issue, all participants are "talking" about is lgbt rights. We would agree with Mr. Roundy if the National Day of Silence were just being silent and not showing any indication of this silence or why the silence exists. However, this is not the case.

This also leads into Mr. Roundy's criticism of the National Day of Silence as the politics of victimization. It is crucial to understand the Day of Silence cannot stand alone. The Day of Silence should be accompanied by educational, queer positive events and articles in your student newspaper. For instance, this year the University of Virginia is holding the Day of Silence during it's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Awareness Days, and we are having queer positive speaker and panels dealing with multiculturalism in queer life. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are silenced. We believe it is crucially important to stand against that. But we would also agree with Mr. Roundy when he states that it is also crucially important to take an active, queer-positive stance. The Day of Silence should go hand in hand with events which display and exercise the agency of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Finally, Mr. Roundy says homophobes will not respect this silence, and will only laugh at us. We think that if we did everything in life according to what homophobes think, we would not do anything at all. Homophobes will laugh at rallies and even AIDS vigils, as well. The difference? Homophobes can avoid rallies, but they cannot avoid someone sitting next to them in class handing them a purple card with the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender on it. They will be forced to confront the object of their fear -- someone who supports lgbt rights, head on.

Once again, we appreciate Mr. Roundy's criticisms. We hope that the day comes when "A Day of Silence is wallowing in a past which no longer exists," as Mr. Roundy claims, although we would argue that that past is still very much the present in many cases. We also would echo Mr. Roundy's admonition to "Come up with something new, damn it!" If Mr. Roundy or anyone else has any ideas for activism or affirmative steps towards a better queer life, please share them with the rest of the world, as we shared the National Day of Silence.

We look forward to participating in these ideas. Until then, please consider looking at the National Day of Silence web page "http://www.youth-guard.org/ndos" to figure out for yourself whether the NDOS will work for your organization.

©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.