Students take part in annual Day of Silence

While the rest of the campus laughed and screamed against the music from the barbecue Friday on the CFA lawn, members of ALLIES, an organization that supports the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community, along with others who support their ideas, kept silent to stand up for the rights of the GLBT community. For them, silence served as a tool to raise awareness about the many members of the GLBT community that have been silenced by bullying, name-calling, harassment, and hate crimes against them.

This Day of Silence that ALLIES and its supporters are observing is an international event that began to commemorate the life of Lawrence King. King was a 15-year-old student who was shot by his 14-year-old classmate because he was open about his sexual orientation and asked the 14-year-old to be his valentine. This event sparked the organization of a day of silence by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), resulting in students from middle school to college keeping silent on this day in support of GLBT rights.

At Carnegie Mellon, this year’s Day of Silence was organized by junior history major Ellen Parkhurst, music sophomore Jennifer Altman-Lupu, and ALLIES.

“The message is going to be that it isn’t enough to say ‘Oh, the CMU community is really accepting.’ We have to do more than just accept. We have to change society,” Parkhurst said. “Somehow, Brandon [the 14-year-old who murdered King] was given the message when he was growing up that it is more acceptable to kill someone than it is to be his valentine. Nothing about that message is right, and it is our duty as accepting people to do what we can to change society for the better.”

To encourage participation in the Day of Silence, its supporters sold T-shirts to raise money as well as awareness. On the actual day, they made a strong statement when they stood across the Cut, dressed in black with pieces of duct tape across their mouths and holding signs telling of crimes against members of the GLBT community.

But keeping silent for a day is no easy task. Junior information systems major Jamie Boschan, the activism chair of ALLIES, stresses that, although she has been participating in the event since high school, it is still “very difficult.” Many supporters approach keeping their silence in different ways; some concede to write down what they wish to say, while others, like Altman-Lupu, refuse to do so in social situations. In her words, Altman-Lupu believes that “this silence is social silence, not academic silence,” and so she speaks, if necessary, in the classroom but abstains from it when with her friends.

In an effort to raise money and spread awareness, Parkhurst and Altman-Lupu organized an open-mic night at the Underground called the Breaking the Silence Benefit Concert. Here, Friday at 6 p.m., people who participated in the event could finally end their silence and, if they wanted, go up on stage and perform.

“Jenn [Altman-Lupu] and I have in the past two years as the GLBT issues co-interns started what will hopefully become a tradition, which is the Breaking the Silence Benefit Concert. Last year the proceeds went toward Iraqi LGBT, an organization dedicated to saving suspected lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis from government-supported death squads. This year we are collecting donations for the Lawrence King Memorial Fund,” Parkhurst said.

Breaking the Silence was a small event, but symbolic of the effort that had gone into making this day a success. Apart from the organizers singing, the show was made interesting with an appearance by a non-Carnegie Mellon student, who read out his bold and thought-provoking poems to the audience. Computer science senior Kwasi Mensah also graced the stage, continuing his personal trend of singing at Breaking the Silence, and promised that he would try to make his songs as gender neutral as possible.

As a whole, the Day of Silence is an event that points out that sometimes keeping quiet gives a stronger message than anything else. ALLIES and its supporters have shown people the need to pay attention to the crimes against the GLBT community, and as Altman-Lupu said, “Our generation is the one that needs to step up and say something.”