Apr 272008
Authors: Madeline Novey

With their mouths sealed with duct tape, CSU and local high school students protested in the Lory Student Center Plaza Friday for the “Day of Silence,” a national, annual protest against oppression of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community.

From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., members of the Student Organization for GLBT and local high school Gay/Straight Alliance groups took a daylong vow of silence.

“We were not saying a word, but through that we were speaking so loudly to people,” said Charles Hunt, co-chair of the SOGLBT that evening, after everyone had peeled the tape from their mouths. “We’re using our silence against people to make them aware of how they are oppressing us.”

In 1996, more than 150 students at the University of Virginia organized the first “Day of Silence.” With over 5,000 high schools and colleges participating last year, it is the largest student-led action to protest the harassment and discrimination of GLBT people.

This year’s protest centered on the murder of Lawrence King. King, a 15-year-old transgender from Oxnard, Calif., was shot and killed by a classmate after the assailant learned of King’s gender orientation.

Protesters passed out fliers detailing the “Day of Silence” and rainbow-support ribbons to students in the plaza — mostly to women, as they were apprehensive about giving them to men for fear of ridicule.

“Student reactions ran the whole gamut,” said Caroline Clute, a GLBT Student Services member and a junior psychology major. “Most people were curious. Some of the people said, ‘This is great, I really support this.’ Other people would take the flier, wait until they thought they were out of earshot, turn to the person they were with and say, ‘Oh, this is for the fags.'”

Protesters were prepared for some resistance as they passed out literature Friday.

“Negative feedback is just something that is to be expected,” said Nick Arent, a high school senior and co-president of the GSA at Poudre High School. “The important thing is to remember that you are doing this to raise awareness and to give those who won’t speak a voice.”

At 5 p.m., the silence was broken and participants and supporters gathered in the Virginia Dale room in the Lory Student Center to discuss the events and successes of the day.

A support circle of about 20 students applauded protesters and their cause.

“This day was about finding your voice, finding our voice,” said Courtney Paddock, student coordinator for GLBTSS. “I was very proud to see people out there wearing their shirts; I felt like it was a privilege to do so.”

At the end of the meeting, Julia Johns, member of Colorado Youth for Unity and Equality and a sophomore political science major, asked for support of an upcoming rally that she is co-organizing.

For every member of Youth for Unity and Equality, it is a rally for equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender. For Johns, it is in remembrance of her late girlfriend, Stephanie Semler, who died at 19 of a drug overdose after falling victim to hate crimes in 2005.

Semler’s overdose was unrelated to her clinical depression resulting from the attacks.

The protest, on the west steps of the Capitol Building, will decry hate crimes against transgender individuals, Johns said.

In memory of transgender victims of hate crimes, more than 300 tombstones will be erected on the Capitol lawn in representation of their deaths.

Staff writer Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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