Today, hundreds of thousands of students around the country will mark today as a Day of Silence. Gay and transgender people, especially young people, are often intimidated into silence by fear and misunderstanding which perpetuates a culture of homophobia. They are silent about their lives, silent about their relationships, and silent in the face of injustice. It is a silence that does not end at graduation, in many parts of the country gay and transgender people are silent in their workplaces for fear of being fired. An estimated 65,000 members of the armed services are silent, despite—and often because of--the crucial roles many of them play. Even still, the military discharges two gay people every day.
It was silence that taught a 14-year old student in California to execute his gay and gender non-conforming classmate Larry at pointblank during class just this year.
Today young people around the country are silent to draw attention to the voices that are not being heard. As you go through your day, I ask you to consider the voices you are not hearing. Friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance from church, parent from school.
At the end of the day, these young people will break the silence and ask “What are we doing to end the silence?” I pose that question to you. What are you doing to end the silence? 90% of the Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination. ION’s (and by extension qubo’s) non-discrimination policy does not include sexual orientation. What does that silence say about our workplace? In New York, a worker can be fired from her job solely because of her gender identity. What does that silence say about our state? In certain churches and synagogues, gay and transgender are not welcome, what does that silence say about our communities of faith?
The Day of Silence is a powerful display for individuals trapped in silence, for many it empowers them to break their own silence. With families, friendships, and lives on the line, silence is disastrous. Please feel free to come to me if you want to talk about any of these issues and how they might relate to your life and the lives of those around you.
However, there are still places in this country where the conversation is not happening. In October and November, 25 young adults will travel to colleges and universities which discriminate against gay and transgender students; places where breaking the silence could result in expulsion. Recognizing that this conversation is too important not to have, these young adults will go undeterred. I had the privilege of taking that journey last year. Along the way, some schools engaged in dialogue, others refused, but everywhere I saw the healing and transformative power of opening up with one another. You can find more information online at www.equalityride.com and can even donate to this fall’s ride.
I hope you’ll take a moment with me today to listen for the voices we aren’t hearing.