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Day of Silence raises awareness for bullying of LGBT students

Stephanie Yang

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Northwestern’s Rainbow Alliance and Project ShoutOUT will participate for the first time in a national Day of Silence candlelight vigil Friday.

At the vigil, Rainbow Alliance members will hand out candles to students who gather at the Rock throughout the day. The group will break the silence at 5 p.m. with stories from students about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their personal experiences.

The Day of Silence is a national, student-led event in which participating students spend the day in silence to raise awareness of the effects of bullying and harassment endured by the LGBT community. Rainbow Alliance has held candlelight vigils prior to this one, mainly during Rainbow Week in the fall.

Cole Berhorst, Rainbow Alliance treasurer,said the purpose of the event is to bring attention to LGBT students who are silenced by bullying in schools, including those who are victims of discrimination or not “out.”

“It’s important that our schools have these types of safe spaces,” he said.

The Rainbow Alliance partnered with Project ShoutOUT, an LGBT youth advocacy group that reaches out to middle schools and high schools around the area, for the vigil. Members of Project ShoutOUT said they planned to paint the Rock for the Day of Silence. The group’s plans included writing discriminatory slurs on the rock and asking passing students to sign their names over the slurs.

Ryan Lim, co-president of Project ShoutOUT, said the signatures will show support for the Day of Silence and act as an indication that students are taking ownership of those words. In signing the Rock, Lim said students will commit not only to not using hurtful slurs but also to addressing the problems they pose.

“It’s to show people that we are here,” Lim said.

Lim said he thinks NU is an open and educated place with great LGBT resources, but he doesn’t see students reaching out beyond campus.

“I don’t think we go out of our community to reach out to even immediate neighbors,” he said. “That’s something that needs to happen.”

While speaking about issues surrounding the LGBT community, Claire Dillon, Project ShoutOUT programming co-chair, referenced Iowa teenager Kenneth Weishuhn, who recently committed suicide. The 14-year-old became the subject of his classmates’ harassment after coming out earlier in the year. She also mentioned New York native Jamey Rodemeyer, another young teenager who took his own life in September. Dillon said these occurrences show there is still a lot of progress to be made.

“It really just drives our message and our motivation forward,” Dillon said. “It’s not just these two teenage boys.”

She said the Day of Silence and the vigil aim to commemorate all the individuals who have been victims of anti-LGBT discrimination.

“It’s still very serious, and it still takes lives,” she said. “It’s still on campus even though it seems we are more tolerant.”

Dillon said she is aware of discrimination at NU and has heard students insult LGBT members of the NU community. She said the key to changing this is increasing education and awareness.

Weinberg sophomore and Project ShoutOUT Treasurer Merry Xiao said she will participate in this year’s Day of Silence.

“Everyone who knows me knows I talk a lot,” Xiao said. “I want people to ask me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”

Xiao said members of Project ShoutOUT will be handing out quarter sheets with information on the Day of Silence and its meaning.

Communication sophomore Jon Gleason, who participated in the Day of Silence in high school, described the Day of Silence as a personal responsibility.

“It was difficult, and I felt like I was making an impact (in high school),” Gleason said. “But since there are so many people here, it will make an even bigger impact at Northwestern.”

syang@u.northwestern.edu

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