A countdown of 20 minutes was on the projector screen, and the crowd of more than 100 people in the UC Ballroom remained silent the entire time.
This was the 17th annual Day of Silence event. The participants’ silence represented the lack of communication, awareness and prevention of bullying toward the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. The event is put on by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Brandon Hopper, junior in psychology at Tusculum College and board member of GLSEN, explained the silence further at the opening of the event, once the silence had been broken.
“It is an act of solidarity not only within the community, but also in society,” Hopper said. “Silence fuels oppression. But we are not powerless. So tonight we break that silence.”
Dozens of display boards lined the walls from different organizations that lent their support to the event. There were boards from Planned Parenthood, giving advice on preventing STDs and distributing free condoms. The display from the Knox County Health Department also had information on STDs, including HIV and AIDS. The KHD was also offering free, anonymous HIV testing in UC Rooms 216, 217 and 218.
 The event was hosted by UT’s OUTreach LGBT & Ally Resource Center. Donna Braquet, OUTreach’s center coordinator, said that Day of Silence was not only important for raising awareness, but also to show the high school-aged LGBT community that there are people who care.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Braquet said. “I couldn’t imagine coming out and having these kinds of resources when I was their age. It’s great for bringing them into the next step of their lives.”
Throughout the day, thousands of middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities participated in the Day of Silence. Traditionally, students spend the entire day in silence and some will often set up display tables with information about the persecution young students face because of their sexual orientation or identity and the consequences of that persecution.
UT’s own Lambda Student Union was one of those that not only remained silent during the day but also had posters and brochures with information about anti-bullying on display on the Pedestrian Mall. Despite the peacefulness of their demonstration, Lambda members said they still had a few negative confrontations.
Caitlin Miller, president of Lambda and junior in philosophy, felt those negative reactions were exactly why the Day of Silence is needed.
“There’s a lot more to be done on campus,” Miller said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of the issues. Not even because they’re against LGBT, but they just don’t know.”
Lambda said most of the students were very supportive of them.
As part of the “breaking the silence” portion of the event, the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus (KGMC) took to the stage. A slideshow accompanied the chorus while they sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” showing pictures of dozens of young, LGBT teenagers (many of them as young as 14) who had committed suicide.
When the song was over, awards were given out to different people who had helped set up the event as well as those who had made other contributions to the local LGBT community, such as setting up an alternative prom, which had more than 200 participants this year.
A number of East Tennessee High Schools and their Gay-Straight Alliances participated in the event, including Bearden, West, Campbell County, South Doyle, Oak Ridge, Clinton, Alcoa, William Blount, and Maryville.
In fact, the Alcoa High School Choir took to the stage and teamed up with the KGMC to sing “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne. A few tears could be seen in the audience, but they were paired with smiles.
Nick Heslep, Alcoa High School senior and member of the choir, said he was thrilled and encouraged by the event.
“It shows how many really support LGBT,” Heslep said. “You wouldn’t think that there were that many supporters but when you get them all together you can really see.”
 Fabiola Nuneg, junior from Alcoa and also a part of the choir, was more concerned about the message of the Day of Silence.
“It really shows we need to be more involved,” Fabiola said. “We need to spread this out.”
The event closed with the Alcoa High School Choir and KGMC returning to the stage. As they sang “Light up the World,” purple glow sticks were distributed to the audience. The lights were then dimmed, and the audience sang along as they waved the glow sticks in the air.
A thunderous applause was given for the two choirs, but more importantly, for those who had fallen prey to bullying, and for those who had had enough.