Although Day of Silence is today, you can help out any day.

Hannah Shewan Stevens
Apr 23, 2021 @ 11:31 am
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how to support LGBTQ youth
Credit: Getty Images

April 23rd is Day of Silence.

Growing up LGBTQ means facing many challenges and some, like our days in high school, can feel like an endless struggle. It did for me, anyway. I went to two different high schools where homophobic slurs were thrown at anyone who took the smallest step outside the gender binary. So when I began to identify my own queerness, I suffocated it. I silenced my identity to survive. And although I'm now thriving as a queer adult, not all of us get to. 

For LGBTQ youth across America, bullying and harassment can be an everyday reality. To raise awareness of the continuing fight to eradicate discrimination against LGBTQ people in schools, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) holds an annual Day of Silence on April 23rd. The student-led demonstration (which originated in the mid-'90s) asks LGBTQ students and allies all across America—and the world—to take a vow of silence during a school day to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination on LGBTQ students. The Day of Silence ends with Breaking the Silence rallies and events to share their experiences of harassment and bullying. The day is both a protest and an opportunity to shine a spotlight on ways schools and communities can become more inclusive. 

According to a 2020 report, 91% of LGBTQ adolescents have experienced at least one instance of bias-based bullying or harassment. "Bullying and harassment can have profound negative mental health effects into adulthood," explains psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy, Silva Neves. "The most common is disrupted attachment: when people become highly distrusting of others, developing a worldview that people are bad and can't be trusted, or that the world is a hostile place."

Whether you're a member of the LGBTQ community or not, the Day of Silence is an opportunity to take part in the ongoing fight against prejudice. Here are nine ways to silently support LGBTQ students in their fight. 

How to support LGBTQ youth:

1. Get your wallet out. 

Every day, LGBTQ people battle prejudice for a chance to be embraced by society. To help make that dream a reality, organizations like GLSEN, Stonewall, ACT UP, and the Transgender Law Center need financial support. Each of us has a responsibility to help evolve society—and making donations is a crucial part of that process. So put your money where your mouth is; no donation is too small to make a difference.  

2. Challenge your echo chamber. 

The Day of Silence is an opportunity to stop centering yourself and instead, start elevating the voices of marginalized folks in the LGBTQ community. Challenge your echo chamber by seeking out information on queer people's struggles all across the world and share it on social media or with your friends in real life. Expanding your beliefs and understandings can help the marginalized queer youth who need your help to eradicate bullying and harassment. 

3. Educate yourself.

All of us with inherent privilege must stop expecting marginalized folks to assume the burden of educating us. Take the day to learn something about your role in perpetuating a system that permits bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth. Research the history of queer people and recognize the rich—and sometimes tortured—history that defines the community to this day. 

4. Take a moment to reflect.

Take a minute, or five, on the Day of Silence to sit without any digital or physical distractions. Be silent and consider the origin of this day. Grieve your own experiences or the ones endured by loved ones; let yourself feel the intensity of the day and reflect on how this day impacts LGBTQ people around the globe. You can do this by journaling, meditating, or simply sitting in silence. The choice is yours.

5. Recognize the impact of layered bias.

While the LGBTQ youth endure many challenges throughout their schooling, people who have other marginalized identities also deal with layered bias. A queer youth who is disabled or Black or Indigenous will endure multilevel prejudice that has to be acknowledged and counteracted. As Neves explains: "A student who feels isolated may struggle more than one who has a good support network. Therefore, students from marginalized communities—LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC—struggle more with their mental health as a result of bullying and harassment because they tend to feel more misunderstood, with less support than their white heterosexual counterparts." 

6. See beyond the surface of the youths' behaviors. 

We know that bullied children can act out or become reclusive but too often, students facing hardship are dismissed for behaviors that are a symptom of their abuse. Is there someone in your life who is behaving out of character? Take today to consider why they may be acting this way and then help them. "If a student experiences bullying or discrimination and is made to feel isolated in a social context, then they may begin to question their own self-worth," adds Matt Loftus, mental health trainer at Warrior Kind. "This increasing self-doubt may, in turn, prevent them from engaging fully in lessons, within clubs and teams, or other aspects of school life."

7. Physically show up for someone.

Without falling into the trap of patronization, it's important for you to be there for a LGBTQ loved one. Just by showing up and keeping your word, you're nonverbally communicating to them that your love for them is not based on their identity, but on who they are as a person. "Persisting with offering support, checking in with a friend regularly, and showing them you care, demonstrates your commitment to being there for them," says Loftus. "Ultimately, this reinforces hope towards recovery, feeling better in themselves and not feeling alone all of the time."

8. Don't assume you know what's best.

Take today's silence as an opportunity to listen to what LGBTQ youth are telling us they need. "Develop a language, culture, and ethos of genuine diversity," says Neves. "Don't assume that all gay men, or lesbians or bisexuals are the same and want the same things, or have the same needs. Speak to them properly as individuals and ask about their specific needs."

9. Make a commitment to enduring change.

Staying silent today is meaningless if we do not commit to systemic transformation. One day's protest does not make a lifelong activist. Identify the changes that you can make in your life, acknowledge your shortcomings, and keep pushing for true and lasting societal change.