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GFS Stands With—and Celebrates—the LGBTQIA+ Community on the Day of (NO) Silence and Night of Noise

Friday, April 12, marked the 14th annual Day of (NO) Silence at GFS. This global Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) event was originally founded in the mid-1990s by two college students and has since grown to include hundreds of thousands of students each year. Historically, participating students go through the school day without speaking, and then end the day with Breaking the Silence rallies to bring awareness to the ways in which LGBTQIA+ communities are silenced.

“With over 800 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced last year, there is a great need for different voices to exist and be valued,” says Charla Okewole, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at GFS. “We miss so much when people are silenced.”

Upper and Middle School students were invited to take a vow of silence throughout the day, signified by wearing rainbow ribbon pins. On Friday morning, students gathered in the Meetinghouse to go into silence together, then met back up at the end of the day in the Common for Breaking the Silence. 

One Middle School student, eighth-grader Charlie Javian, participated in Day of (NO) Silence and also wrote bios for LGBTQIA+ historical figures, like Sappho and Marsha P. Johnson, that were read over the Middle School morning announcement during the week leading up to Friday.  This was part of the effort of the Middle School and Upper School Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) groups to add educational components to the day. Both the Middle School and Upper School SAGA groups were instrumental in the day.

“I’ve participated in the Day of Silence every year that I’ve been at GFS, but this was my first year helping to plan it,” Javian said. “I’ve been getting more into leadership stuff on campus and really wanted to take a step and do more to help out to make this event happen.”

In the Lower School, students gathered in the morning for an assembly in Poley Auditorium. The 5th grade class shared posters they had made illustrating their reflections on the day, and the learning they did throughout the week leading up to Day of (NO) Silence. Students received ribbons to wear during the day, and shared in collective silence following their silent march through campus. Physical Education teacher Cheryl Bruttomesso shared brief remarks encouraging students to seek gratitude for the culture of inclusivity at GFS. The students broke the silence by singing “Common Thread,” led by Music Department faculty Carly DeCock and Renee Warnick. 

Librarians Kate Garrity and Hannah Mermelstein stationed a book cart filled with grade-appropriate LGBTQIA+ titles in the lobby of Cary Building for teachers to use in their classrooms. A special collection of LGBTQIA+ books were also curated and on display in the Friends Free Library for all to access. The Open Door staff played a playlist of songs by queer artists throughout the day.

Later that evening, the GFS community reassembled on the Common for Night of Noise, an exuberant event filled with color and sound, co-organized by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the GFS Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Parents and Friends Alliance, Middle School and Upper School SAGA groups, and LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff. The event kicked off with a parade across campus, festooned with Pride flags and a mini float. Students of all ages, faculty, staff, parents and friends were in attendance, many of whom were in fabulous attire. 

Drag queen bingo, hosted by Brittany Lynn, was a rousing success with fun prizes for the winners, and student performances, including GFS A Capella and student-led bands and performers, kept the energy high. Community organizations and partners, like Philly Family Pride and PFLAG, introduced themselves between performances, and distributed literature and resources in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. The photo booth was a popular spot, and many students went home carrying free books provided by current families and LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff.

For Javian, who also helped to organize Night of Noise, the gathering and safe space embodied the spirit of inclusivity at GFS. 

“There is so much that GFS provides for this community,” he said. “Night of Noise was basically just a big love fest.”