Friday’s “Day of Silence” rally outside Colorado Springs City Hall enveloped a lot of words.
“It’s important to accept everyone’s differences, and break the silence and barriers of being different,” said 18-year-old Paxton Means, a transgender man and high school senior.
LGBTQ students from around the Pikes Peak region observed the nationwide annual event that uses silence and then breaking the silence to highlight the harassment and discrimination they experience at school and bring attention to inclusivity.
“Visibility is really important, to help people feel loved and seen in their queerness,” said 17-year-old Alaska Woods, also a high school senior who's nonbinary, lesbian and queer.
Two college students started the Day of Silence tradition in the mid-1990s, and now hundreds of thousands of students across the country take part each April, according to estimates by the founding organization, GLSEN.
The local student-led rally was sponsored by Inside Out Youth Services, which supports southern Colorado’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer youth, ages 13 to 24.
“This is a day when we choose our silence and when to use our voice,” said Goddess Tyescha, Inside Out’s amplifier of health advocacy.
“The fact is that we are continuously not represented and silenced by lack of invitation to the table,” she said. “So, we are setting the table and making our own table, showing that we exist, and we will and can be heard in silence.”
LGBTQ students say they face intolerance, ostracization, homophobia and transphobia on a regular basis.
A 2019 School Climate Survey GLSEN conducted showed that the majority of LGBTQ students in Colorado regularly hear discriminatory remarks. Ninety percent of students said they were subject to anti-gay rhetoric, and three out of four Colorado students said they received negative comments about transgender people.
Pervasive bullying and other social challenges have mental and physical consequences for LGBTQ students, who report higher rates of substance use, such as alcohol and marijuana, than their heterosexual peers, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado survey.
Nearly half of gay, lesbian and bisexual youths and about 60% of transgender students said they had considered suicide in the past year, the 2017 survey showed.
Woods is part of the yearbook team at her high school. This year, the group got permission to do an LGBTQ-themed spread.
“Kids were literally ripping the page out of the yearbook,” Woods said.
But, “at the end of the day, I would do it 1,000 times again, just to make one kid know.”
Means said he gets bullied by his family as well as his peers.
“All you do is say, ‘This is me,’” Means said. “It’s who I am. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s worth it for you and what you want to be in your life.”
Youths and adults made posters at Friday's event, with such sayings as, “Black Queer Lives Matter” and “God is All Genders.”
Being able to speak freely often is considered a privilege among gays and trans students, 17-year-old Marshall Seidel said.
But Seidel, who is nonbinary, wants it to be a right.
“Being gay or trans or even Black was not normalized where I grew up, and it’s very hard to grow up in that,” Seidel said. “I don’t want it to be like that for kids who are like me or look like me.”
Queer poets also were featured at the rally.
Wearing a pink jacket that reads, “I Am A Human,” college student Irina Amouzou said she writes poetry to be introspective about life and “explore the ways in which I navigate my queerness.”
“I’m here today because I want anyone who recognizes as LBGTQIA+ to know that, even in Colorado Springs, there are people who look like them, who understand them, who see them as real human beings who deserve to be respected,” said Amouzou, who is nonbinary and uses the pronoun they, instead of he or she.
It’s often difficult, Tyescha said, for people to grasp the idea that there are more than two binaries, or assigned genders based on genitalia. That has led to some “trying to quiet and silence our young people and society.”
Amouzou said the concept that “gender and sex aren’t natural real things and any human being can ebb and flow between them” also is tough for people to understand.
Woods said she’s happy to see the word “queer” be reclaimed by the LGBTQ community, now as a label to encompass everyone — trans, gay, asexual.
“It’s a really beautiful term that unifies us,” she said.