Students from across the Chicagoland area gathered outside the Thompson Center in the Loop Friday to celebrate the culmination of the Day of Silence at a Night of Noise event organized by the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.
Throughout the day, participants across the country abstained from speaking aloud in a show of solidarity with LGBTQ peers who may not have the support to express their sexual or gender identities in public, a tradition started 16 years ago.
The Night of Noise event brought nearly 300 youth together and was meant to “break the silence” in an effort to empower LGBTQ youth, said Grace Gonia, 16, a junior at Lyons Township High School in West suburban La Grange. As a middle schooler, Gonia said she had been bullied, but that changed when she became confident in her identity, then “nobody messed with me anymore,” she added.
“I’ve really wanted to make sure everyone can go to school and feel safe and feel accepted,” Gonia said. “And feel that they don’t have to hide [their identity].”
Students from several Chicago high schools — everywhere from Walter Payton Collage Prep to Whitney M. Young Magnet High School — were participants in the rally, said Anna Rangos of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. Rangos said that this year’s event specifically focused on transgender and gender identity rights awareness.
“We want to bring youth together and encourage them to fight for their rights,” Rangos said. “Like changing policies in their schools, fighting for gender-neutral bathrooms and fighting for better environments in their schools.”
Several student speakerss took the stage to drive home the message of breaking the silence and fighting for safer, more LGBTQ-inclusive schools as well as creating more transgender and gender non-conforming inclusive student groups.
“No more of this second class crap!” said Thomas Wackins, a student speakers, to much applause from the crowd. Wackins took the stage to talk about changing Gay Straight Alliance, or GSA, groups in schools to Queer Straight Alliance, or QSA, to broaden the inclusiveness to transgender and gender non-conforming students.
“When you say queer, it’s not a derogatory word anymore,” Wackins said. “We took it back. QSA will invite more people to come. It’s more than just the ‘gay club.’”
A small contingent of Huntley High School students made the trip from the far northwestern suburb directly after class let out Friday afternoon to attend the event.
“It really hits close to home,” said Joey Gardner, 17, a junior at Huntley. “I was one of those people who couldn’t break the silence. But knowing there’s so many people here — it helps a lot.”
Gardner and Tiare Gutierrez, 16, explained they don’t face much discrimination or harassment from their peers. Instead, the Huntley GSA has been met by a uncooperative faculty and administration, said Gutierrez. Several emails sent to faculty from GSA members at the school have been met with no reply, she said.
“Last year was tougher,” Gutierrez said of interacting with other students. “But this year was good.”
In addition to student speakerss, the event brought several groups of students to dance in front of the Thompson Center to music provided by a DJ. There was also a short drag performance.
“We had a really great turnout this year,” Rangos said. “I’m really pumped.”