Today’s event, Day of Silence, is a student-led action to spread awareness about the impact of bullying on LGBTQ youth. By taking a vow of silence, young people embody the erasure and exclusion that many LGBTQ students experience on a daily basis. LGBTQ students face verbal, physical and sexual harassment in higher rates than the general student population.  For so many, school is and feels unsafe.

The Massachusetts LGBTQ Youth Commission just issued its annual report and recommendations and the data are stunning. LGBTQ students face almost two times the risk of bullying at school and face over three times the risk of self-harm and suicide then their non-LGBTQ peers.

We all must act to change our schools and make them more inclusive and supportive.

On this Day of Silence, we can take steps to support our youth and send them a clear message — we see you, we value you, and we will fight with you to make schools safer.

I want to suggest two concrete actions we can all take.

First, advocate for policies in schools and school districts that comprehensively affirm and protect LGBTQ students, particularly transgender students. Throughout New England, where GLAD works closely on school issues, the law is clear that schools cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  But each school district and each school should translate those legal protections into a clear policy that is disseminated throughout the community of students, parents, guardians, faculty, staff and administrators to ensure that those legal protections are understood and implemented in our schools. Policies such as the transgender and gender expansive student policy implemented in Portland, Maine, in late 2017 show how districts can affirm and support students through clear, common-sense policies.

Second, work to change state laws about what our youth learn in schools.  Having LGBTQ history and experience incorporated into curricula and ensuring that reproductive and sexual health education are affirming are important to creating inclusive environments for all youth in schools.  Now pending in Massachusetts, the Healthy Youth Act (H. 410) would ensure that Massachusetts schools with sexual health education classes include affirmative recognition and support for diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Incorporating these conversations into classes, affirming queer identities in a positive way, and deconstructing societal and media messages are all effective ways to normalize diversity within sexuality and health.

On this Day of Silence, we can take these steps to support our youth and send them a clear message — we see you, we value you, and we will fight with you to make schools safer.