Vows of silence show oppression of LGBTQ youth

By Amy Friedenberger

Senior Nina Siviy stood in front of the William Pitt Union Friday afternoon, black electrical… Senior Nina Siviy stood in front of the William Pitt Union Friday afternoon, black electrical tape pressed firmly across her lips. As people walked by, she raised a sign that read “I Stand For Those Who Are Silenced.”

About 25 students marched around Pitt’s campus Friday afternoon as part of the Day of Silence “Breaking the Silence” rally to call attention to the bullying and harassment of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Rainbow Alliance, a Pitt student group that promotes the interests of the LGBTQ community, organized the event.

The Day of Silence calls for people to take a vow of silence to represent how LGBTQ students are often silenced as a result of being bullied and harassed.

Rainbow Alliance president James Weaver said only a couple people vowed to be silent for the whole day, but a few more took shorter vows of silence.

Rainbow Alliance Vice President Dylan Drobish said that when those not participating see the tape over the mouth of someone taking the vow of silence, they see how hard it can be to reach out to those who feel like they can’t speak because they are being bullied.

Drobish showed up to the rally with a fake black eye and bruises around his body to represent the physical violence that people have sometimes been inflicted with because of their sexuality or gender identity.

At 4 p.m., the students broke the silence by leading a march around lower campus.

“It’s a way for everyone to symbolically and physically break the silence,” said Tricia Dougherty, Rainbow Alliance’s political action chair.

Students met in front of the Union, then marched through Litchfield Towers, down Forbes Avenue, through Schenley Plaza and around the Cathedral of Learning.

“We’ve been silent all day, and now it’s time to get loud,” Dougherty shouted through a megaphone.

They shouted chants such as, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia’s got to go,” “Two, four, six, eight, Jesus cannot make you straight” and “Two, four, six, eight, are you sure your roommate’s straight?”

Some people turned their heads, and one older woman said that the students should be spending more time studying.

After returning to the Union, the participants wrote adjectives on a balloon that described their emotions during a time they felt they were being silenced. Words such as “spiteful,” “powerless,” “oppressed” and “depressed” covered the two yellow balloons before they were released into the air.

The Day of Silence is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national education organization that focuses on ensuring safe school environments for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to a 2009 GLSEN National School Climate Survey of high school students, nine out of 10 LGBTQ students experienced harassment at school, three-fifths felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about one-third have skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.

While GLSEN focuses on high schools, Weaver said that Rainbow Alliance puts on the event because bullying does not stop when students leave high school.

“I think that a lot of students sometimes forget that bullying still goes on,” Weaver said.

Melissa Tabak, the executive assistant of Rainbow Alliance, said that it’s difficult to assess whether an entire campus community is “gay-friendly” or not.

“You find people who are supportive of the LGBTQ community, and sometimes you find the one or two who aren’t,” Tabak said.

Tabak said that early in the morning, someone came up to the table that Rainbow Alliance had set up in front of the Union, ripped up a flier and walked away.

“I would say that there are a lot of people on Pitt’s campus who are gay-friendly, but I wouldn’t necessarily say the entire campus is gay-friendly,” Tabak said.

“People are fine with the LGBTQ community if it’s silent, but when we do something that attracts attention, then there is sometimes a negative reaction,” Weaver said.

About five people from Campus Women’s Organization showed up in support of the march.

Tracey Hickey, office administrator for CWO, said that the organization often works with Rainbow Alliance because LGBTQ issues are tied with the goals of feminism.

“No one is free while anyone is oppressed,” she said.