Youth break the silence at April 15 rally

Sami Hoffman

Sami Hoffman

By Susan Jordan

How many thousands of LGBT youth – or heterosexual youth for that matter  — have been driven to self destructive behaviors, including suicide, by homophobic verbal and physical harassment and bullying? How many youth, whether gay or straight, have been murdered in cold blood by those who “hate queers”?
We will never know the exact figures. Those voices have been silenced. But on April 15, thousands of LGBT youth and allies across the country held the annual Day of Silence. They kept silent during the day and then broke the silence at rallies to remember and honor the thousands of young lives lost to hatred and bigotry.
At 4 p.m. on April 15, around 150 local youth rallied in the Apollo Room of the Auditorium Theatre, under the auspices of GLSEN and the Gay Alliance Youth Group. The rally ended with pizza and a dance. Depression screening by the University of Rochester was also available.
Youth read poems (see below) and then held up signs reading “5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” and then everyone let loose with loud cheers and applause. Dontaee Williams, 17, of the School of the Arts, did a dance performance; he was organizer for the rally, along with Alex Gasparre.
Erik Libey of AIDS Care then shared his own experiences coming to terms with being a gay youth. He said, “DoS was inconceivable when I was 16.” He said that his first coming out experience dated to his baby pictures, when according to family legend he tearfully rejected a football in favor of a purple stuffed animal.
At age seven he was confronted with graffiti labeling him “jovial” – that week’s vocabulary word, which the children had been told meant “gay, happy.” When asked in the principal’s office if he knew what “jovial” meant, Erik said, “Gay and happy!” He was then asked if he knew what “gay” meant – and his mother, wife of a Baptist minister, told him it was something “very bad”. She told him to avoid “gay” people or “it would rub off on me”.
“From age seven, the lesson I learned was to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t deal with the fact that I liked boys until I was in college,” Erik said. “Not talking about being gay hurt me and everyone around me. Silence should never be part of your life. Queer people need to be out and proud and loud as we can be – that will change the world.”

Poem by Sami Hoffman, 22

We’ve held our heads down for too long now,
Eyes married to the ground,
Cracks in sidewalks spelling
Familiar words
That we memorize as lyrics,
Cherish as love letters,
Recite as poetry;
Try desperately to recall them
With pen in hand
On nights when the silence
Echoes on empty walls,
Reminding us of the echoing words we
Try to forget,
But can’t help but remember,
Tongues swollen from biting down
So hard,
Words dancing on our lips
But our voices unable to speak them
Out of fear, out of shame,
Out of the thought in our minds
That we’re better off saying nothing…
Hope is never silent…
But yet we silence ourselves
In hopes of disappearing,
Not realizing that even the
Sobs you let slip
On nights when you know
No one can hear
Still make a sound,
And are echoed by the
Same sobs
On those same nights
By the same kid by a
Different name
With the same pain,
And same swollen tongue
From how hard they too have been
Forced to bite it.
Hope is never silent.
So know that on those quiet nights…
We hear you.
Know that when you scream to empty walls…
We hear you.
Know that the lines so intricately carved
Into soft skin of wrists
Spell out words to us.
We’ve read them, remember them.
Recited them to anyone who will listen
We carry them as our own, Carry your pain as our own,
Carry the burden of a heavy heart
That is no longer just yours.
Hope is never silent.
And it’s time we break that silence.
Remove our teeth from the tongue that bleeds
And let our presence be known
To everyone who hopes to keep us quiet.
Don’t let the sunsets of yesterday
Keep you from opening your eyes
To the sunrise of tomorrow.
Let your voices be heard.
Hope is never silent.

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