Students, staff gather for Day of Silence
The event aimed to raise awareness of bullying of the LGBTQ community.
Apr. 20, 2009
Campus was a little quieter Friday.
About 500 MU students and staff members participated in National Day of Silence, an annual event that aims to raise awareness of the bullying and harassment Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and Questioning students suffer every day.
Participants could be seen throughout campus wearing T-shirts with a large "90%" on the front. The back of the shirts stated, "of transgender students experienced verbal harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and gender expression."
When they were asked what the 90 percent stood for or why they were being silent, many participants just pointed to the backs of their shirts. Others handed out small pieces of paper explaining Day of Silence is "a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies."
At noon at Speakers Circle, a silent chain of students, linked by hands and rainbow flags, formed a circle around Brother Jed Smock.
The students were protesting the evangelist after he verbally attacked a transgender student the previous day, making derogatory statements about genitalia directly to the student while they were sitting watching, senior Morgan Diehl said.
"I was sort of making fun of her," Smock said. "It's OK to make fun of gay people."
Most in attendance disagreed.
"We consider it to be hate speech," Gamma Rho Lambda President Yantézia Patrick said.
Gamma Rho Lambda was established as a social sorority for the LGBTQ community and allies.
Members of Triangle Coalition, Fluidity and Gamma Rho Lambda organized the event, which attracted spectators throughout its two-hour run.
"It's just ridiculous that a person can't walk to class without their identity being attacked, like I don't see how in any way that's building a safe environment," Triangle Coalition President Asher Kolieboi said.
Kolieboi said several organizations work together to make the university a safer place.
"We just wanted to do a non-violent silent protest to say 'you know, we are here, we are students, we matter, you know, this is our community,'" Kolieboi said. "It's great that we have so many allies here."
Philosophy graduate student Pete Abram was reading in Speakers Circle when the protest began and knew something interesting was going to happen.
"It's always nice to see people doing the right thing," Abram said. "Obviously I'm not talking about Brother Jed and Brother Cope."
Smock said he appreciated the protest because he said it added to his message by drawing more to the audience.
"A few of them could be touched by my message," Smock said. "You know, I haven't completely given up on homosexuals."
Smock said that though he wasn't aware Friday was the Day of Silence, he was aware of its existence and hails it.
"It's one of my favorite days of the year because homosexuals tend to be very mouthy and loud and noisy and boisterous in promoting their perversion, and so I welcome the one day of the year when they are silent," Smock said.
Some spectators seemed to say what the circle could not, expressing their furor and proclaiming the injustice of what Smock was teaching when Cope came into brusque physical contact with some students.
Diehl said the turnout showed the character of MU.
"I think it just made a really big statement about our campus unity," Diehl said.
Many participants were particularly inspired by the amount of support they received.
"We decided to come to the circle today and join hands as a united front to let people know that the circle should be a safe space," Patrick said.
Diehl has participated in Day of Silence in the past. She said she participates because she has several LGBTQ friends and family members.
"The issue needs to be put out there," she said.
Even though the Day of Silence was officially scheduled to last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., many students chose not to remain silent the entire day.
"I was silent most of the day," said Jennifer Pierrot, a sophomore who promoted the event at Stephens College. "I broke the silence around people who were wearing the shirts and already aware of it, but around other people, I was silent so that they would ask why I was being quiet."
Although Stephens does not have its own LGBTQ support group, Pierrot took the initiative to mobilize the event at the college.
"It wasn't very organized," Pierrot said. "I just told a lot of people, 'Day of Silence is on Friday,' and I came to Mizzou and picked up a lot of T-shirts, and then just handed them out to people."
Pierrot said she was inspired by the amount of support she received.
"There was no negative feedback at all," she said.
The number of people who showed their support, specifically by wearing T-shirts, also inspired senior Ashley Price, one of the organizers of the event.
Price said she felt the protest reflected the purpose of Day of Silence as a whole.
"We need to make it clear that that kind of hate speech is not appropriate," she said.