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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“The Silence Itself is Enough of a Statement”: Unintended Consequences of Silence as an Awareness-Raising Strategy


The strategy of silence for voice, as seen in the Day of Silence, deploys silence in order to draw attention to the ways in which an individual or group has been silenced and to establish possibilities for voice. The Day of Silence is a nation-wide day of action aimed at addressing anti-LGBTQ bias and harassment in schools. This ethnographic study of a high school gay-straight alliance (GSA) club examines the unintended consequences of silence as an awareness-raising strategy during events related to the Day of Silence and how students and teachers handle these consequences. Silence makes students more defenseless in the face of verbal harassment, makes it more difficult to engage in discussion with others of opposing views, and makes it more challenging for teachers to lead their classes and for students to learn. What remains unheard at MacArthur High are the institutional silences LGBTQ students experience when they find themselves not represented in the curricula and they find critical discussion of heterosexism and hegemonic masculinity absent from classroom and school discourse. While the Day of Silence calls for students to engage in intentional silences in order to raise awareness about anti-LGBTQ bias, it does not necessarily lead others to take more responsibility for their ignorance or to address silences around gender and sexuality. This study makes suggestions for implementing change regarding silences of LGBTQ issues in the curricula, pedagogy, and schooling practices.

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