Instead of raising his hand, John Spillman was forced to text message his friend during class to ask him a question about the lecture. Spillman couldn't ask the professor a question or even whisper his concerns to the student sitting next to him.

However, Spillman, a senior at the University of Utah, was happy he couldn't speak. The political science and sociology major gave up his speech for four hours Wednesday as part of the National Day of Silence, a national movement aiming to bring light to issues the gay community is facing.

Students participating voluntarily gave up talking to reflect the times that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have been forced to keep quiet about their sexual orientation for fear that they might be physically or mentally abused.

Before his class, Spillman and the rest of the students participating in the event handed out cards explaining their situation to their professors and other students who approached them. Giving up speech gives people outside the gay and lesbian community a chance to see what it's like during times that gay and lesbian students are forced to keep quiet, Spillman said.

"Imagine not being able to say anything about yourself, like who you're dating or what you did over the weekend," Spillman said. "It feels very blank and oppressive."

Spillman was speaking from personal experience. He remembers having to remain quiet when several students made homophobic remarks in the cafeteria on campus. He would have stood up for what he believed in, he said, but he did not confront them because he felt physically unsafe.

In the afternoon, members of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the U. marched through the Union building in a silent protest. The walk was originally supposed to take place throughout the campus and include a rally as it has in previous years, but poor weather forced the group to march indoors.

The dozen or so members of LGSU walked through the Union Ballroom, each wearing a ribbon around his or her mouth and black T-shirts with the words "Queer," "Dyke" and "Fence Sitter" printed in bright pink on them.

The group marched for about half an hour, and although Bonnie Owens, co-president of the group, clutched a megaphone in her hand, she never used it.

"By taking power out of that silence, we've had to face before, we take it into our own bodies to kind of reclaim it," said Owens, a senior in gender studies.

The group broke its silence at a local rally in the Utah Pride Center later that night.


E-mail: abreton@desnews.com