Hopkins’ Day of Silence is rooted in history. On June 28, 1969, a riot-broke out at the well-known gay bar “The Stonewall Inn” in downtown Manhattan. Before 1980, homosexuality was outlawed in New York, and the police arrived at the Manhattan gay bar with the intention of shutting it down. Instead, the patrons resisted and held out against the police for three days, even as the officers returned clad in riot gear.
The Stonewall Riots were considered the catalyst that propelled the pride movement of the late twentieth century to support those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or other forms of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as their allies (LGBT+). Since 1969, numerous national organizations and holidays have been founded to continue raising awareness about the LGBT+ community and the issues they still face.
On Friday, April 29, the student-led Hopkins club SAGA (Sexuality And Gender Advocates) will be honoring the lives and experiences of LGBT+ people through the Day of Action. The day will include Assembly presentations by the nonprofit Stonewall Speakers group, Q&A sessions with the presenters, a story wall highlighting the experiences of both historical and Hopkins LGBT+ people, and finally a movie to end the night with pride.
Until this year, however, SAGA celebrated the Day of Silence after the national organization Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) first sponsored the event in 1997. SAGA had chosen to maintain the Day of Silence as a way to honor those LGBT+ youth who are often unable to communicate how they identify, but the club soon realized that the Day of Silence generated conversation, as SAGA faculty advisor and librarian James Gette noted: “People wanted the freedom to talk.”
Second SAGA advisor and Head of the Classics Department, Kate Horsley explained that the club “Soon adapted the national event to more closely fit the needs of the Hopkins campus.” Horsley elaborated that, this year, “Participants can [still] choose to be silent as a way to honor and gain empathy for those unable to communicate anything, but SAGA also wants to engage in dialogue.” SAGA student head Annika Eberle ’16 added that the Day of Action, featuring events designed to let students exchange ideas and opinions, will “Make Hopkins more comfortable talking about these issues.”
The Stonewall Speakers organization describes themselves as a volunteer-driven national nonprofit that aims “To help eliminate hate and promote understanding” by sending LGBT+ adults to schools and businesses to discuss their experiences. Director of Diversity and English teacher Amanda Friedman had previously worked with the group, and recalled that hearing the speakers’ stories was “Incredibly, incredibly powerful. There’s a really profound strength in people’s stories that truly resonates with [others] because someone’s personal experience and the life they’ve lived isn’t theory and isn’t something that’s debatable.” Friedman added, “Sometimes the best way into a conversation that’s really personal, is for an external voice to come in and start that conversation,” and hopes that this experience “Will give people in the community here an opportunity to feel empowered to share their experience.”
Following the Assembly, the Hopkins community will have the opportunity to discuss its own opinions and listen to the viewpoints of others in two Q&A sessions with the Stonewall presenters (to be held during B and A blocks.) SAGA student head Emma Weiss ’16 said that the Day of Action, itself, and the two breakout sessions “Will be interactive, and the change in routine will draw more attention to this special day and to acknowledging the LGBT+ community everyday.”
SAGA will serve as a way for students and adults to recognize their own internal prejudices and privilege. Eberle compared the mission of the Day of Action to the Conversation on Race program, because both events compel people: “To address personal certain internal biases.” Horsley added that “The Stonewall Speakers will bring more insight into the life [of LGBT+ people] and their victories, but also point out the privilege some may have as being either heterosexual or cisgender [both of which are considered the societal norm.]”
In addition to the Day of Silence, SAGA has already taken steps at Hopkins to increase awareness about LGBT+ experiences. Working closely with Health teacher Peg Connolly and Health and Science teacher Ian Guthrie, SAGA leaders have included lessons discussing gender and sexuality into the Junior School activity Healthy Body Healthy Mind. Eberle explained that “Having facilitators who are closer in age has made the conversation so much less uncomfortable, especially for the younger kids to see older kids who have gone through [this period of transition] and come out okay.” Gette added that the outreach is essential as “It is important to have support network for younger students.”
Although the club has organized school wide events, such as working with the Junior School and the Day of Action, Horsley maintains that there is still progress to make “By calling attention to outright forms of silencing, such as bullying and homophobia, but also to more mundane types like erasure, because there is not yet a history class about experiences of the LGBT+ community at Hopkins.”
In this way, the Stonewall Speakers presentations will, as Eberle explained, “Give Hopkins a reality check on queer issues, because the LGBT+ community went from experiencing total-right denial to gay marriage legalization in forty-six years, and on one hand [the Day of Action] is celebratory because so much progress has been made, but also a reality check because the Stonewall riots happened not that long ago.”
Other activities throughout campus on Friday, April 29, will celebrate the courage of the LGBT+ community, and create safe spaces for people to discuss their opinions. A story wall, highlighting the lives of historical and Hopkins LGBT+ people will be displayed in Upper Heath, and a similar video will be shown at assembly. An LGBT+-themed movie will be screened in Upper Heath later that night to end the night in celebration. Phoebe Cardenas ’17, the SAGA member in charge of planning the movie night, explained that “SAGA is hoping to create a space for LGBT people where they can feel completely comfortable and accepted.” SAGA member Annie Nields ’17 added that the Day of Action “Encourages someone, whether they identify as part of the LGBT+ community or not, to voice support or opinions.” Eberle noted that “Although having one day especially dedicated to supporting the LGBT+ community is hugely beneficial, everyday is speakout day and ally day!”