The President’s Commission for LGBTQIA+ Advocacy held its Break the Silence rally Friday, April 12 in the Last Chapter Pub. The rally followed the annual Day of Silence, a national protest to acknowledge and prevent the erasure of those in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Rainbow balloons dotted the pub and were illuminated by dim rainbow lighting. Attendees could take stickers and pins off of the tables that promoted the Day of Silence. Light refreshments were also served.

Jimmy Ortiz, an assistant director for Student Involvement, took the stage to introduce the event and the first speaker, Tori DeVita (‘21), the president of Generation Equality.

DeVita told their story about coming out to their mother. They encouraged all who attended to continue wearing pins, using stickers and displaying other merchandise that showed support for the LGBTQIA+ community, assuring everyone that these actions “do not go unnoticed.”

“We’ve done a lot, especially on the SNHU campus, to make people feel welcome and make people feel included, but we also are reminded that there are still so many people who don’t feel comfortable coming out, who don’t feel comfortable being their true self and we want to encourage them to seek out people who are living their true selves, get help or counseling or just [seek] friends or community that they can embrace themselves with,” DeVita said after the event.

After the scheduled speakers, Ortiz opened the stage to all who had a story to share, whether they be an ally or a community member. Many speakers mentioned Generation Equality as being a safe space for them and a place that it felt like home.

To this, DeVita said, “I am so proud…Everything I do for Generation Equality, everything the eboard does for Generation Equality, it’s all to make people feel like they have a safe space or that they have a home…So to hear everyone talking about it, it just shows that we’re always going to be that welcome home.”

Elaina Hill, the Assistant Director of Residence Life, was among those who shared their story on a whim. She spoke about growing up in a more conservative home with a father who was a pastor, and how she was not able to accept who she was until entering the workforce. However, she has since come out to her parents and her father actually turned out to be her greatest ally and is in a loving relationship.

“I think about how important it is to have that self-awareness and to have the contentment in that self-awareness,” Hill said. “It’s creating that awareness and letting others know our stories, and not being silent about [them]. So if anything, others might feel a little courage to break the silence themselves. Or if they’re unable to, to know that they have support systems in place here…it really comes back to the community and that sense of belonging, always. That’s really important to me.”

Ortiz, who played a major role in organizing the event, shared his own story about growing up in a Latino household where “machismo” is a very important part of the culture. He spoke about being unabashed in his identity and encouraged others to do the same.

“I wanted to make sure that I [brought an energy that welcomed] people and welcomed all types of experiences,” Ortiz said about emceeing the event with Hill. “People have their own struggles, and I wanted to be able to welcome that, have them share it and feel like they’re being heard and comforted.”

Ortiz shared that he has participated in the Day of Silence since he was an undergrad. He feels that it provides “only a moment” of the feeling of being silenced in the LGBTQIA+ or any other marginalized community, but it is important to feel that moment.

“I have a lot of personality, so when I go silent, people tend to take notice…it impacts how much people notice that you’re not there…I look at it as being greater than myself…look at what you’d be missing from people who are in this room because you don’t even know if they identify or if they’re in the closet,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz also shared how he thinks this event impacts the SNHU community. “It brings us all together to have those conversations, hear our experiences and also, for allies, to understand a little bit more about what our experiences are like, and that it’s not just sad. Yes, we experience pain, but we experience a lot of joy and liberation and strength and growth from coming out.”

Events like these continue to be important in a world with mixed views on the LGBTQIA+ community. According to GLSEN, 90 percent of LGBTQIA+ students experience verbal harassment and almost one-third of them miss school because of feeling unsafe.

While the SNHU community has done more than other campuses to ensure a safe environment for its students, it is clear from many of the speakers there is still a long way to go. However, with events like the Day of Silence and the Break the Silence rally, SNHU and its faculty will continue to cultivate a welcoming community for all.