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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"THAT'S SO GAY" - THE DANGER OF COVERT HATE SPEECH





From a very early age I learned that one of the worst things
I could be called was “fag” or “sissy.” Even before I understood what the word
meant, I associated shame and fear with it. As I grew up, “fag” became one in a
long list of 
anti-gay labels that would fall into this category — words that
would take years for me to overcome and accept; words bursting with hatred that
left numerous scars.





Thankfully,
obvious hate speech is not as freely tolerated as it was in my younger days,
but as the acceptance of homosexuality has grown, hate speech has evolved. In
addition to the common ways hate-born labels are used to belittle gays and
lesbians, hate speech has also become more covert. By adopting the guise of
everyday slang, homophobic speech has managed to find acceptance with
frightening regularity by many people, including some gays and lesbians.







The
expression “that’s so gay” is commonly used to describe anything unpleasant or
disliked. For me, personally, this type of slang falls into the hate speech
category because it takes one of the simplest words a gay person uses to
describe himself and redefines it in a negative way. However, I have found that
many gays and lesbians do not share my opinion on the subject and are quick to
dismiss its use, or worse, utilize it as well.





Some gay men
feel that those who object to the use of “gay” as a negative should “man up”
and “deal with it.” They argue that taking offense at the use of such slang is
a sign of weakness and that it should not only be accepted but also used in
return. While I can appreciate the logic behind the attitude of fighting fire
with fire, this approach seems like it does more harm than good because it
ignores the damage that this type of speech can cause and validates its use as
well.





Then there’s
the alternative opinion, which suggests gays and lesbians should simply ignore
homophobic slang and not “make a fuss,” especially when it is used by young
children. I was recently shocked when Sean, the 8-year-old son of my friend
Eric and his partner, Chris, described a television show he hated as “gay.” I
can understand that an 8-year-old is going to use the same vocabulary and slang
as his peers, but I was unprepared when his father completely ignored the
comment. “Don’t you think it’s inappropriate for him to describe things that
way?” I asked.





“He doesn’t
mean it in a bad way,” Eric replied. “It’s just the way kids talk these days.
Chris and I don’t have a problem with it. Besides, we don’t want to be
oversensitive to this kind of stuff with Sean.”





Was I being
oversensitive? Eric had a point. I couldn’t deny that using “gay” as a negative
had found its way into popular culture, and Sean was just a kid, but he wasn’t
the person I had a problem with. I had a hard time with the ease with which my
friend accepted his son’s choice of words. Rather than being dismissed,
shouldn’t such behavior be met with education? Apparently my friend, a gay
parent, 
didn't think so. He was content to believe that his son didn’t mean any
harm, but does his assumed meaning excuse the use of language that demeans a
group of people? And furthermore, doesn’t ignoring homophobic slang only serve
to endorse it?





As children,
many of us are taught to believe words cannot harm us, but the reality is words
are powerful and can cause a great deal of damage. Using “gay” as a negative to
describe anything might seem harmless, but what kind of damage can this type of
slang have on a young boy struggling with his sexuality or one still forming
his view of gays and lesbians? In the fight for equality, can the LGBT
community afford a cavalier attitude toward hate speech that attempts to fly
under the radar?



SOURCE: GAY DOT NET

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