National Day of Silence

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Maria Pulzetti, an 18-year old University of Virginia student, created the National Day of Silence, a nine hour moratorium on speaking “to demonstrate how discrimination can silence the voices of so many other youths,” in 1996 after writing a paper on non-violent protest.[1] The event gained sponsorship from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).The goal was to turn silence, usually associated with a lack of strength, into an empowering group action. [2]

In 1996 National Day of Silence was only observed at UVA, but the next year, through the organizing done by UVA student Jessie Gilliam, nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. In 2001, the project grew to include more than 300 high schools. The effort to involve high school participation was led by Chloe Palenchar, then eighteen years old. [3] Due to the success of the event, the founders, along with Chris Tuttle, acting as GLSEN’s National Student Organizer, submitted a proposal to GLSEN requesting more funding and volunteers. GLSEN responded positively and offered to train the seven-person student leadership team. They also offered to produce an organizing manual to be sent to over 3,000 Gay – Straight Alliances. [4] Based on the success of National Day of Silence, GLSEN’s student leadership limb organized the first ever Ally Week in 2005, a nod to the important roles allies play in creating a safe school environment for queer youth.[5]

Students involved in the organization of National Day of Silence point out that “the broad participation of straight allies elevates the Day of Silence from a bunch of gay kids complaining about discrimination to a formidable student-led movement for civil rights.” When students choose to take the vow of silence they carry a card detailing the purpose of the event to offer as an explanation when approached with questions.[6]

By Emily Storer

The Day of Silence is an annual, youth-led day of protest, reflection, remembrance, and solidarity for LGBTQ people and straight allies. [7] [8]Participants take a day-long vow of silence and distribute cards or wear placards explaining the reason for their silent action. After “breaking the silence,” many groups continue their action into the evening with a meeting, social event, or continued protest.[9]The Day of Silence is often coordinated by local high school Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) or LGBTQ student groups on college campuses.[10]

The first Day of Silence was organized in 1996 by students of the University of Virginia.[11][12][13]150 students participated and the event received extensive local media coverage.[14][15] Encouraged by this success, UVA student Maria Pulzetti began her mission to make the Day of Silence a national event. Pulzetti and classmate Jessie Gilliam brought the concept to colleges and universities across the country and by the next year, students on nearly 100 campuses participated.1[16][17]In 1998, Pulzetti, Gilliam, and their newly established team of regional coordinators officially launched the Day of Silence Project and expanded their outreach to high schools.[18]By 2001, when the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official organizational sponsor, hundreds of K-12 schools and colleges across the US were observing the Day of Silence annually.[19][20] By 2006, that number rose to more than 4,000 (with approximately 450,000 individual students participating).[21][22] Despite the fact that this event has become successful and widely accepted in public and private schools across the country, there is still opposition from conservative groups who call for boycotts of the event, or attempt to promote a “Day of Truth” as a protest event.[23] Some students have even been punished in school for their participation, such as the case of Curtis Walsh who was suspended in 2007 by his Washington County, TN public high school only minutes after the school day began.[24]


  1. Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos (2002, April). "The sound of silence". The Advocate,(860), 32-34. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 112899579).
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. About Day of Silence. National Day of Silence. 11 December 2007.
  5. "GLSEN's Second Annual ALLY WEEK". (2006, November). Respect,(2), 1,6. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from GenderWatch (GW) database. (Document ID: 1304490411). (includes several images of Ally Week gear and participation)
  6. Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos (2002, April). "The sound of silence". The Advocate, (860), 32-34. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 112899579).
  7. “Day of Silence Organizing Manual,” Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and United States Student Association, (November 26, 2007).
  8. Riley Snorton, “GLSEN’s 10th National Day of Silence Expected to be Largest to Date,” Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, (March 30, 2006), (November 26, 2007).
  10. ibid.
  11. ibid.
  13. “Participate in a National Day of Silence This April,” Transgender Crossroads, (November 26, 2007).
  14. ibid.
  16. ibid.
  19. ibid.
  23. Randy Hall, “Boycott Homosexual 'Day of Silence,' Pro-Family Group Says,” CNSNews, (March 30, 2007), (November 26, 2007).
  24. “ACLU Wants David Crockett High School Officials to Apologize to Student Suspended for Gay Rights Demonstration,” Times-News, (May 14, 2007), (November 26, 2007).