ALLIES breaks the silence by raising LGBT awareness

Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor

ALLIES observed the National Day of Silence in the University Center last Tuesday. The Day of Silence is sponsored nationally by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and was officially observed this year on April 15. Carnegie Mellon observed the Day of Silence later than the official date, which fell during Carnival.

According to GLSEN’s website, “The National Day of Silence is a day of action in which students across the country take some form of a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.” The Day of Silence has been commemorated across the country since 1997.

Carnegie Mellon was not alone among Pittsburgh schools in its observation; Ida Mayer, a senior computer science major and the vice president of ALLIES, said that the Day of Silence was commemorated at most of Pittsburgh’s colleges.

The University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper, The Pitt News, reported that 25 Pitt students participated in a “Breaking the Silence” rally, in which they ended their day-long silence by marching around the Pitt campus. According to the official Day of Silence blog, GLSEN’s Pittsburgh group held its own “Break the Silence” party as well.
ALLIES President and senior computer science major Stephanie Federwisch said that ALLIES has observed the Day of Silence since at least 2006. Traditionally, students gather on the Cut, where they place duct tape on their mouths and hold signs with information on hate crimes and obstacles faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth.

This year’s signs, for instance, included information on Tyler Clementi, one of many gay teens who committed suicide last fall, and on the It Gets Better project, which was created by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to the suicides. This year, due to rain, the event was moved inside the University Center.

“It sort of worked in our favor that it had been raining,” Federwisch said. “You usually have some people hang out outside, some people hang out inside, but everyone was inside this year.”

Mayer agreed. “The nice thing about being in the UC was there were a lot of people who were staying there, instead of just walking by, which meant that people read all of the signs we had,” she said. “People really saw what we were doing, instead of just walking past us.”

This year’s turnout was low compared to previous years, with generally only one person at a time holding signs. However, Federwisch believes that the low participation may have had an upside as well; she said that since one person had to cycle through holding all the signs, some people stuck around to see what the next sign would say.
Mayer and Federwisch said that the response to the event was generally positive. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had anyone come up against us, really,” Federwisch said. “We’ve had mostly just support, or just [people who were] confused.”

The point of the Day of Silence, Mayer said, was not to change people’s minds, but to raise awareness. “I really think that awareness is the most important thing we can do on a campus like this, because people are so positive,” Mayer said. “But they think that everybody is this positive, and there’s nothing left to do. And so when they realize that hate crimes are real, and that they exist, and that they’re happening now, and around us, it changes people’s perspectives in a large way.... Not everywhere is as perfect as it is here.”

The event may have succeeded in its goal, according to Federwisch. “We had one person who came up to me ... and asked me several times, because I was holding all of the signs at this point, ‘Okay, next one, okay, next one, okay, next one,’ ” Federwisch said. “And after about five or six of them, he says, ‘Okay. How can I help?’ ”