Concord High students make statement with Day of Silence

  • Concord High School juniors Emily Gomez, Abby Duffy and Callie Field-Benda took part in the National Day of Silence at Concord High School on Friday. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School juniors Abby Duffy, Emily Gomez and Callie Field-Benda display the cards they carried Friday that explained their participation in the national Day of Silence. Eileen O'Grady / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/24/2021 4:02:10 PM

Emily Gomez typically talks a lot, but on Friday the Concord High School junior stayed silent.

“I am a very talkative person, so if other people hear me not talking and they go, ‘wow, she’s not talking, that’s not normal,’ that means I’ve done my job,” Gomez, 17, said Thursday ahead of a planned Day of Silence at the school. “Because it’s not right for LGBTQ+ students to stay silent about their problems.”

More than 50 Concord High School students participated in a national Day of Silence on Friday to bring attention to harassment and discrimination that LGBTQ students face in schools nationwide. Gomez, a member of the Tide Pride Gay & Straight Alliance, participated in the event for the first time this year. She said Thursday that she decided to take part because she enjoys activism and wants others to understand the challenges faced by LGBTQ students.

The Day of Silence is a national student-led movement that was started by college students in the 1990s and is organized by LGBTQ education advocacy organization GLESN. As part of the event, LGBTQ students and allies take a vow of silence for one day to bring awareness to the silencing and erasure that LGBTQ people can face at school.

Concord High students have held the event annually for the past 15 years, according to English teacher Heather Ouellete-Cygan, faculty adviser to the Tide Pride club. The one exception was in 2020 when school was remote due to COVID-19. This year, 56 students signed up to participate.

“The students are very excited about it,” Ouellete-Cygan said Thursday. “They’ve cited a number of reasons why they’re participating, everything from they or their loved ones are LGBTQ, or they’re very supportive of their friends and they want to stop and end harassment and bullying of all kinds. It’s nice to see the activism of students who are participating.”

Nationwide, 59% of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe at school in 2019 because of their sexual orientation, 42.5% because of their gender expression and 37.4% because of their gender, according to GLSEN’s 2019 national school climate survey, and 32.7% of LGBTQ students said they missed at least one full day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

New Hampshire has a strong anti-bullying law that specifically covers students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. But even so, 64% of New Hampshire LGBTQ students reported being harassed or assaulted in the past year based on sexual orientation, according to GLSEN’s 2019 New Hampshire data. Nine out of 10 reported hearing the word “gay” used in a negative way, and 73% reported hearing other homophobic slurs.

During the Day of Silence, Concord students chose the degree to which they feel comfortable being silent throughout the day, according to Ouellete-Cygan, who said most students planned to stay silent during classes, although that wasn’t a requirement. Teachers were made aware through the attendance list which students in their classes were planning to be silent, and the students carried cards that indicated they were participating. Some students also carried mini whiteboards and dry erase markers to communicate.

Gomez said Thursday that she planned to stay silent from the moment she woke up Friday, including in all of her classes. Her Friday schedule included band, where she is a flute section leader and AP psychology which is “a very interactive class,” according to Gomez, both situations where not speaking is challenging.

In a typical year, CHS students break their vow of silence at the end of the school day with a gathering on the high school steps where they have a silent countdown followed by a noisy cheer and a pizza party sponsored by Tide Pride. This year, due to COVID protocols, the gathering didn’t happen, but GLESN held a virtual end-of-day event for students nationwide.

“I like communicating with  other people about what we do and just doing peaceful things that show support for Tide Pride and everyone in the LGBTQ+ community,” Gomez said.

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