National Day of Silence at SPU

Joe Cagley

On April 27, a small group of SPU students gathered at Tiffany Loop in observance of National Day of Silence, a protest dedicated to raising awareness against queerphobia and LGBTQ+ hate crime.

Protesters, encouraged not to speak for an entire day, symbolize the silencing of queer youth as they face physical violence and verbal aggression for simply existing.

At the end of the protest, the silence is broken and people begin to speak again.

As a participant myself, I sat in the Loop in silence and solidarity and reflected on the metaphor of the protest.

Specifically, the eventual breaking of silence which comes after a day of quiet demonstration begs the question: how do we begin speaking again? How do we give queer youth a voice?

President of Haven Jemma Anerback stated, “We must ask ourselves what it means not just to notice what voices are missing, but also what it means to seek out the missing voices and give them a chance to speak.”

I have come to realize that there is a double silence on this campus.

The first is a straight silence from cisgendered, heterosexual students towards issues of injustice which the queer community face.

The other, a subsequent silencing of queer voices and queer identity.

Closeted identity — or “being in the closet” as it’s referred to colloquially — is a reality a group of LGBTQ+ students face at SPU.

National Day of Silence calls upon SPU’s student body to create a more accepting community where everyone can feel safe to be themselves.

When people go to college, the experience of independence is often formative and liberating.

While most students seem to be ‘finding themselves’ at university, for queer, closeted individuals, becoming the person they’re truly meant to be is stifled by a feeling that no one will accept them.

For example, I’ll be on a dating app, filtering through profiles, and will get a message from an anonymous, discreet, account.

It’s worth noting that within queer dating culture, the term ‘discrete,’ refers to a user who wants their identity kept secret.

These profiles usually disclude face pictures, names or personal information.

I’ll get a message from a discrete account — usually a “hey,” or “how’s it going” — and out of curiosity, I’ll engage in conversation. What I have found is that often the people behind the faceless profiles are SPU students.

They’re closeted and feel like they can’t come out; they’re not ready, people won’t accept them.

I am ‘out’ on this campus and my queerness is something I feel comfortable expressing in most spaces.

Knowing that there are people like me, other LGBTQ+ students who don’t have this same level of freedom is tragic. It is unjust.

I know what it’s like to be closeted, feeling like you’re constantly living a lie, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to hide such a large aspect of myself at university.

I am not trying to say that being in the closet is inherently wrong.

It’s perfectly valid to want a certain level of privacy, but what I am saying is that it’s wrong that people should feel like they have to be closeted.

It’s exhausting, frightening even, when you are constantly trying to seem straight.

You lie all the time in order to maintain a certain level of social privilege that comes from appearing heterosexual.

You see the ugly reality.

When instances of aggression and discrimination occur against LGBTQ+ students, there is no ally to back us, no verbalization of wrongdoing.

The student body seems either entirely ambivalent at best, or just blatantly queerphobic.

Of course many will remain closeted — it is easier for the time being.

This double silence starts with a refusal to recognize and call out the straight aggression LGBTQ+ students face and the result is an uncanny quiet from the closet; no verbalization of injustice, no verbalization of identity.

So that closeted queer folk can feel safe at this school being themselves, so that the LGBTQ+ community can feel welcome at SPU, straight, cisgender students need to call out discrimination when they see it.

This doesn’t just mean protesting queerphobic rhetoric and policy at SPU, like the SPU Statement on Human Sexuality, but being a better ally is also interpersonal.

Johnny Quintana, future secretary of Haven, describes this aspect of allyship. He stated, “In Tiffany Loop … this guy, he used like a slur for transgender people. I don’t think he even knew it was a bad thing. The two girls that were with him called him out on it, like straight away … which is awesome just to know that there are people I don’t even know that will stand up for my friends.”

Unfortunately, an unknown number of queer voices are silenced through similar instances like slurs, microaggressions and discrimination.

To break the silence, stand up for your friends, your peers.

Say something when you see microaggression; verbalize injustice when it happens.

Everyone deserves to be themselves on this campus.

Joe is a sophomore studying social justice and cultural studies.