The National Catholic Review

The National Day of Silence is being celebrated on April 15th. Where I teach it was celebrated a week early due to a very busy college schedule. In class I called on one of my students who instead handed me this note:

Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name calling and harassment. I believe that ending that silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.

Here is a sample letter that organizers suggested be given to everyone so that the meaning of the day could be understood:

I am writing to inform you of a student-led action that will take place in thousands of schools across the nation. Friday, April 16th, 2010, marks the 15th annual National Day of Silence. The Day of Silence is the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. I wanted to let you know that I am supporting our students’ Day of Silence efforts, and that you can support them as well.

There are many ways for educators to support students on the Day of Silence. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has created a resource that gives you background information about the Day of Silence, suggestions and tips for supporting students’ Day of Silence efforts and links to additional resources for supporting LGBT students in school. You can download The Educators’ Guide to the Day of Silence at It is my hope that you take the time to read the guide and learn how you can help, but also I wanted to tell you about two simple ways that you can support the Day of Silence.

During the Day of Silence, students may be taking a vow of silence for part or all of the day. One way you can support our students is by choosing to conduct lessons and activities that will allow the students to remain silent. For example, you can screen a video related to LGBT rights or other social justice movements or engage the students in a reading or visual art activity. Another way to support students’ Day of Silence efforts is to inform other students about the Day of Silence, its purpose and some activities students in the school may be participating in. This will help to create a safer space within the school for students’ participating in the Day of Silence.

Perhaps some good will come of what is learned from this day when it takes place on Friday.

William Van Ornum


Show Comments (39)

Comments (hide)

Lauren Orichio | 4/16/2011 - 8:24pm
Next year, I want to have a lot more to do with this day of silence on campus at Marist College. I hope to be able to make it more known and more widespread, and have a message really come accross from it. I have always known about it, but never really understood the gravity behind the idea of the silence until this year. I am taking a Social Inequality class at Marist, and it is really opening my eyes to the struggle of homosexuals in America. I feel as though if everyone walked a day in their shoes, there would be more tolerance to the American homosexual population. 
For my Social Inequality class, we have to do monthly journal assignments reflecting on the material that we learn in class about various social inequality issues. She says that even in a school with not a lot of diversity as Marist is, in all her years of teaching it has averaged out to about one student in every class each year indentifying as gay but not openly because of their fear of being judged. If everyone at Marist felt the burden of this silence just for one day I feel that attitude would be greatly improved so that people who do identify as homosexual can do so without fear, and the need for silence will stop. 
Cheryl Benjamin | 4/16/2011 - 11:46am
It makes me so happy that this actually has progressed over 15 years. More interestingly, colleges are not the only instituitons engaging in this "day of silence" as businesses and certain departments are either remaining silent for an hour or wearing a ribbon that brings some form of awareness. In light of the suicideds that have taken place as a result of bullying for sexual orientations, it is crucial for the youth to stand together and fight this nonsense. We can not afford to lose anyone else from this
we vnornm | 4/14/2011 - 5:28pm
Well, here I am feeling like a lurker on my own blog. But I do read and think about everything.

Perhaps one of the difficulties of this whole topic lies in writing about something versus experiencing the event. It's hard for me to put into words how I've been touched by the sensitivity and compassion shown by students who participated and responded to this day in the past. (Yes, I understand about the "sponsors", "agendas", etc.)

So I hope some good comes out of the event tomorrow. best, bill

Anne Chapman | 4/14/2011 - 3:11pm
Why the panic about gays? Why the paranoia?  Why not live and let live?  How do gays hurt other people or society?

I don't know a lot of gay people (they are a small minority of the population), but every gay person I do know is a ''good'' person - responsible, hardworking, and generally, kinder and more tolerant of humanity in general than many people in the mainstream, heterosexual majority.  A friend of mine who has worked with and known many gays (mostly Catholic priests, actually, who are celibate - just as most of the heterosexual priests are celibate) thinks that gays have suffered so much hatred based purely on who they are that many gay people develop greater compassion for others - especially those who are also ''different'' - than the rest of us.
Vince Killoran | 4/14/2011 - 12:20pm
"[U]nveils the key psychological principles and national strategies that gays must follow..." "At the same time, Kirk and Madsen propose a clear-eyed agenda to reform gay culture..."

These quotes are so choppy that they aren't at all a "slam dunk" Michael-"strategies" to "follow" for what? "Reform gay culture" to what end? Muddled and unclear.  

What does this have to do with opposing bashing, bullying, etc.? Don't your think this kind of harassment is a problem? Don't you oppose this behavior? 
Anonymous | 4/14/2011 - 12:11pm
Vince mentions "hidden agenda wish-wash" -

There's nothing hidden here, Vince.  It's all out there, it's just spin.  We've read enough about Tim Gill's activities to know that the myth of the homosexual agenda myth is no myth.  You can ignore the argument, but you can't rebut it.

And here's the instruction manual:

From the book flap:  "Dismissing the movement's outworn techniques in favor of carefully calculated public relations propaganda, AFTER THE BALL unveils the key psychological principles and national strategies that gays must follow..." "At the same time, Kirk and Madsen propose a clear-eyed agenda to reform gay culture..."
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/14/2011 - 1:35am
I read the blog and comments shortly after getting home from a baseball game and maybe I'm just too tired but I think something important has been lost in this discussion.  I'm super sensitive about bullying.  My children were terribly bullied thoughout their years of special education, especially in middle and high school.  So, when I read about the bullying of LBGT students and a program designed to sensitive students and prevent bullying, I think we are on to something good.  It doesn't mean we are condoning behavior but that we look on each student as a child of God and we believe every student should feel safe at school.  We need to find ways to prevent this vile bullying which can lead to group scapegoating and violence.  What is objectionable to some commentators-the program itself, the GLSEN sponsorship?  If so, we need to ask ourselves what we as church are doing to protect all of our children.

In a wider context, we can learn from history, specifically, the Holocoust.  Now, I am not in any way equating bullying with the Holocaust.  Look  at eugenics which was the underlying philosphy behind the extermination of people; the dire economic condition of Germans after WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, and how the holocaust began.  At first the Nazis emptied the mental asylums and killed the mentally ill; then they went after the mentally retarded and other disabled people and killed them; then the homosexuals.  The most vulnerable Germans were eliminated at the beginning.   Now look at what is happening in our country.  Eugenics which has a fairly recent history is once again raising its evil head.  Check out Dr. Peter Singer at Princeton who has quite a following.  There is eugenics by abortion-few Down Syndrome babies survive the abortionist.  As more genetic disabilities are discovered the babies with those genes will be at risk of elimination.  On and on.  At a time of great economic upheaval, as now, there is great danger of scapegoating and of bullying turning into violence.
Vince Killoran | 4/13/2011 - 11:21pm
Thanks Bill for posting information on this important event to oppose bullying, name calling and harrassment.

The "hidden agenda" wish-wash is typical fare from our regular crew but I do want to respond to David's post at  #34 re. "I doubt most kids are inclined to think these things through": I teach at a college and have found students be knowledgeable and articulate about most things.  Much better than many older folks in fact. . .
Matthew Pettigrew | 4/13/2011 - 10:31pm
I see you still can't resist relying on statements made by others to make your point, Marie, whatever that point is. But I guess I can't quibble too much about the source of your quotation. And just so we're clear, I proudly stand by the statement that you quoted. Am I to assume you have a problem with it?  Care to explain - in your own words? I'm willing to bet that Father Keane will not delete it.
Megan Walters | 5/4/2011 - 9:50pm
I praise your student who wrote you a letter explaining why he cannot participate in class. It showed his true dedication to remaining silent all day for the Day of Silence. I wish more people would take pride in something they strongly believe in. I think it is important and reaches out to more people than you'd ever realize.
I think it is so sad that we need to be totally silent for a day just to give respect towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies. It is disappointing that these people have to hold their feelings inside them because they are scared of harassment, both physically and verbally. They should not be liked or disliked because of who they are attracted to. Everyone has preferences and that is what makes us all unique. I think everybody should find something they believe in and strongly stick to it. Support your beliefs and don't be ashamed. It takes a lot of courage that I think more people need to find within themselves.
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 8:57pm
"And in a decision just announced this afternoon, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California invalidated California's Proposition 8, a referendum passed by voters that banned same-sex marriages. It was an ugly, intolerant, hateful law, and Judge Vaughn Walker (who, incidentally, was nominated by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) should be applauded for his insight, wisdom, and fairness. Of course the battle is not over; an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals is a certainty, and the case is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. But bigotry and intolerance have suffered a blow, at least for today".

-Matt Pettigrew

However, there is an o?pen market intolerance ??at America Magazine toward those who adhere to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. We shall see if this is posted.
Matthew Pettigrew | 4/13/2011 - 8:35pm
I'm not quite sure what to make of some of these comments; it's simply impossible to describe adequately my reaction to some of the notes that appear to find fault in a program that is aimed at stopping or reducing bullying, name calling, harassment, and violence. How can that possibly be a bad thing? Have the concepts of tolerance and intolerance lost their meaning? These are children we're talking about, children who are being made to suffer because they're different. Have we become so cold-hearted and so self-righteous that we've lost the ability to see that? Are we so falsely sanctimonious that all we can think to do is to label them sinners? I find what some commenters have written to be sad and deeply troubling. Are these children a threat to you? Do they threaten your Christianity? Your humanity? Back at St. Patrick's many years ago this might be about the time when the nuns would suggest that it's time for us to examine our consciences. Where are your hearts?
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 8:28pm
Father: Would you like to re-post the comment that was deleted then?
Matthew Pettigrew | 4/13/2011 - 8:00pm
Maria:  I guess that answers my question. Thanks.

David:  Who or what is childish and deceptive?  Thanks.
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 7:50pm
@ Matt

I tried. Comments that do not support the homosexual agenda at America Magazine are deleted.
Matthew Pettigrew | 4/13/2011 - 7:09pm
Maria:  With respect, your comments on this thread are not quite as clear as your comments on other subjects. Would it be possible for you, without relying on quotations from other people, to tell us how you feel about the posting by Mr. Van Ornum? Speaking for myself, I'm much more interested in knowing how you feel, not how the people you're quoting feel.  Thank you.  Matt
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 5:01pm

Here is a sampling for  the ACLU LGBT Project
LGBT Rights Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project
The LGBT Project fights discrimination and moves public opinion through the courts, legislatures and public education across five issue areas: Relationships, Youth & Schools, Parenting, Gender Identity and Expression and Discrimination in Employment, Housing and other areas.

Repeal DOMA And Cosponsor The Respect For Marriage Act

President Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, dealing a serious blow to this unconstitutional and discriminatory law.

But, while this is a huge step forward, there will undoubtedly be forces who will be angered by President Obama's decision — and will do everything they can to bolster DOMA. That's why we need you to take action right now. The Department of Justice is required to give Congress an opportunity to defend the law. And Speaker of the House John Boehner has until March 11 to defend it. Urge your member of Congress to stay out of this litigation and not defend DOMA.

Let us be honest. This is about using children as tools to exploit an agenda. Is the Catholic Church supposed to be helping them?

we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 4:52pm

I believe we both share the view that some young people are "impressionable" and your point is well-taken, I hadn't thought about it. On another occasion I hope this topic can be covered here without startying a war of words.
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 4:43pm
Bill -

I don't doubt that there is good fruit that comes from any anti-violence campaign. The problem is the bad fruit that comes with a campaign that masquerades as merely non-violent but is propagandist at its heart, promoting through "tolerance" the encouragement of experimentation with homosexual acts by impressionable youth and the potential adoption of homosexual lifestyles.
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 4:37pm
Bill: A letter is provided to this campaign which is signed by the ACLU LGBT Project. Again, does the Catholic Church support this campaign?
we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 4:00pm

Ridicule is hard to bear, and so is the "silent contempt" which Day of Silence brings to our attention. best, bvo
we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 3:59pm

I honestly don't see how National Day of Silence contradicts the Catechism, and I tend to be kinda scrupulous. best, bill
we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 3:56pm

You probably have a point about this organization's underlying sources of funding-even agenda-but my focus today wasn't to look at this. Just as I'm not going to look at the Vatican Bank of the 1980s, Cardinal Law in Boston, Philadelphia, Maciel, the Spanish Inquisition, or Judas, all of whom have been part of the Church.

I'm simply looking at the message of this day at face value. I've seen it bear good fruit.

It's interesting that when I wrote on this topic before, I ws excoriated in another part of the web for my "defense" of the Church.

An interesting topic......

we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 3:51pm

Thanks for your sensitive observations. bvo
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 3:31pm

“To foster homosexuality or sexual promiscuity among our young people is certainly immoral no matter where it comes from,” the cardinal ( Martinez) added.
Kayna Pfeiffer | 4/13/2011 - 2:53pm
What a great cause this is! Everyone has the right to exercise their right to freedom of speech or to remain silent if they so choose. I have had friends and family members ridiculed or even physically bullied due of their orientation. They are such strong individuals for embracing their sexuality knowing that it may cause controversy. It is sad to hear about the stories of people who live their whole lives fighting these feelings, living double lives. I hope that every year this cause continues to grow, raising awareness on this subject.
Allyse Bamonte | 4/13/2011 - 2:15pm
This day of silence is a great idea. Not everything needs to be fought for with words. Sometimes silence is more powerful, and in this instance I feel that it is. Although we have had our day of silence at Marist, many more people will be participating this Friday. Together in silence, the rest of the supporters can help the LGBT cause gain a lot of attention, maybe even more so than by speaking publicly or having another type of event. It also allows for good publicity and have their cause be recognized for the right reasons. Obviously there are times that call for action and public speaking, but to have something so different and powerful even without voice is making a big statement.
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 1:52pm

The official site for the event is inconsistent with your statement that this is not just about people who identify as LGBT.   From the site's home page:

"On the National Day of Silence hundreds of thousands of students nationwide take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools."
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 1:48pm
You know, Bill, people who don't have substantive replies to a comment typically resort to attacking the commenter.  

I'm not here to bicker, and I'm not taking issue with your choice of post.  I'm taking issue with this organization's couching its homosexual advocacy under the banner of anti-bullying; and adminstrators, teachers, and even legislators caving to the demand for special treatment of homosexuals and gender confused individuals, to the exclusion of other classes of victims.
Janice Feng | 4/13/2011 - 1:37pm
I remember participating in the Day of Silence in high school and being met with ignorance and opposition. Many did not understand or even try to understand the purpose behind the day's events. Many students would ask questions like Why would you stay silent? Wouldn't it make more sense to be speaking out for their rights? Many looked at the day as something pointless. Some teachers were very accepting of students' participation in staying silent, while others, who knew they couldn't force you to talk would either pick on you or ignore you. It really saddened me when people couldn't even try and understand what the day's message was. The Day of Silence isn't just about standing up for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, it is about standing up for those who are bullied no matter what reason. Often when someone is picked on, they remain silent, for fear that the harassment will increase. The point of this day is to recognize those people who have been forced into silence. Those participating could choose to force people to listen to what they have to say, but the impact of silence is so much greater. Think about it, which one do you notice more, the friend who is speaking or the friend who won't say a word? Just one student in one classroom refusing to speak makes everyone notice. Having a solid amount of people throughout your school doing the same thing is very noticeable. Keeping silent seems like such an easy task, but it is hard. Going through the entire school day without saying a word is one of the hardest things to do. Now just seeing someone partaking in this event, whether it be just for one class or the entire day, I understand and can feel what they are going through, and better yet it allows me to somewhat understand what those who are being bullied are going through.
we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 12:44pm

Geesh...if I look at all the columns I've written here in nearly a year, this topic is not one that appears frequently. And I re-read it carefully and didn't see anything that goes against the Magisterium which, by the way, I support.

Monday.....mental retardation...tens of millions persons and families you have thoughts to make on this? I'd welcome more comments from you on the range of topics written about here!

Many of the topics I've written on have been about those who display some "difference" that is not one of sexual orientation.

Maybe Friday can be a day of silence, of compassion, a truce from the bickering?

best, bill
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 12:33pm
Alyssa said:  "I always try hard to see the best in people, but those individuals who bully others for being different make it really difficult for me."

So let me be the politically incorrect insensitive guy who asks the question that if the issue is "being different," why are sexuality issues being singled out and all other difference being excluded?

Where I grew up, the kids who were most victimized were the smart kids, the kids in the band, the Jews, the effeminate (sexuality unknown), the short, the fat, the unattractive, etc....  Ironically, the gay kids were silent then.

I'm amazed everyday how our society has "progressed" to celebrate sexual immorality, homosexual or otherwise.

we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 11:55am
Thanks, Regina.

I'd like to mention that Regina Sewell, a colleague of mine, has written articles as well as books that are pertinent and helpful to the kinds of issues being brought to our attention on National Day of Silence. Her website is:

Regina is a counselor/coach whose superior intelligence and wisdom and humor have helped many people. She works with everyone but has developed a speciality also with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered and her gentleness and savvy have been the vehicle of compassion to many.

best, bill
we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 11:45am

Thank your for Churchill's quote; it is one I need to be reminded of often.

best, bill
we vnornm | 4/13/2011 - 11:32am

I have seen plenty of positive change in this particular concern during my life.

But I sense your frustration when people or systems don't seem to be changing in the direction of what we believe is right. Sometimes it's good to remind ourselves of the changes that have been made.

Perhaps other times we need to remind ourselves that doing the right thing doesn't have to be reinforced by extrinsics but is intrinsically the right thing to do. Now for myself this is easier to preach about than to follow!

Congratulations on your award as Graduating Psychology Student of the Year.

best, bvo

best, bvo
Regina Sewell | 4/13/2011 - 11:23am
This is a great overview of the National Day of Silence. 

It's nice that more and more places are recognizing anti-GLBTQ harassment and bullying and taking steps to do something about it.

People don't consider how abusive the culture is...  It's not just the horrific abuse that is a problem.  It's the more innocuous things like having to hear someone say, "That's so Gay" or seeing graffitti that says, "Kill the Fags" that make GLBTQ people feel unsafe and unwanted.  And it's not just words, it's also the body language...  looks of disdain, staring and finger pointing (trans people especially face this) that make it uncomfortable to be "out."

Thanks for bringing this to light!
John Barbieri | 4/13/2011 - 10:55am
@ Alyssa

All of us are acting out.
We act on the basis of what we believe to be true at best or on what we think we can get away with at worst.
Sadly, we can always find "excuses" for awful behavior.
Happily, if we look for the good, decent, and honorable, most people will not disappoint us.
Winston Churchill once said: "Of course i am an optimist! It makes little sense to be anything else!"
Hope this cheers you! 
Alyssa Cariani | 4/13/2011 - 10:36am
I wish I learned about this day earlier than our class period. I would have certainly participated as I did in high school. It truly is a beautiful thing to do, especially with the amount of disgusting harassment that doesn't seem to lessen as i grow older like i thought it would. Still, even as a Senior in college, I see people being ripped apart for their orientation. Who the heck cares? Why is it any of your business anyway?
I always try hard to see the best in people, but those individuals who bully others for being different make it really difficult for me. Do you think it will ever end?  
Anonymous | 4/13/2011 - 2:39pm
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

As Catholics, we either assent to this or we do not.