24 October 2010

That's So Honors English

Recently, there have been several LGBT teen suicides. The pressure on these kids, as well as the rest of the LGBT community, is enormous, and many feel that death is their only escape from the hatred that they encounter in their lives. I wrote this paper a few years ago, for my Honors English class, but the message is still as true as it was then. We need to stop perpetuating hate speech in order to push progress forward.

By DeviantArtist Traitors-stead

When you hear something stupid, or see a silly picture, what is your most common response? “That’s so stupid?” “That’s really silly?” That’s probably not the case. As nice as it would be to live in a world where dumb things were simply dumb, this is not reality. In most cases, when something strikes a person as being different, or odd, or oppositional to their own beliefs, they refer to it as “gay.” “Oh my God, that shirt is so gay.” “You listen to that band? You’re such a fag.” The truth is that most people who say these things probably don’t realize the strength their words have. It is most commonly believed that about ten percent of the American populous is LGBT. Despite the fact that this community is a minority, they still have the right to stand up and oppose the deliberate misuse of a once-neutral term for homosexuality. In defense of the LGBT community, the Ad Council has brought forth an award-winning series of commercials dealing with the phraseology “That's so gay.” The clips are about thirty seconds long, but they deliver a strong message, spoken by celebrities that Americans can easily recognize-- Wanda Sykes, who recently came out to the public, and Hilary Duff are in the two most popular of the commercials. Speaking as a friend of several gay people, and as a bisexual, I personally believe that the American people, and young adults in particular, need to come to the realization that their words have power, and can hurt people when taken in the wrong light.

The emotional weight that the LGBT community carries, due to their orientation, has been somewhat lifted in recent years, though it still seems far more acceptable to be straight. With the controversy over gay marriage and equal opportunities, LGBTs have been forced under a spotlight as of late. California's Proposition 8 has drawn a great deal of attention, as have the bans on gay marriage and adoption rights in several states. It may seem, then, that simple words don't matter much in the light of far more serious concerns. Unfortunately, though, the misuse of words like gay, faggot, lesbian, and homo is becoming so prevalent that it, too, as become one of those serious issues. A report by the Ad Council states that “Almost 90% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students report being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation”. The majority of the abuse may, in fact, be unintentional because of the adoption of the orientational slurs into the everyday teenage vernacular.

Rationally, fighting the verbal abuse of an already-oppressed group makes perfect sense. Very little separates LGBTs from the so-called “rest” of the population; the separation is what truly makes no sense. Unfortunately, there are those who feel that the commercials that fight against stinging insults are themselves insulting: “This campaign from the Ad Council goes about sharing the love by creating more hate. [Hilary] Duff makes fun of the teenage girl and her ability to shop in order to make her point”. The same sentiment was expressed by several people I have personally addressed, including my own father, who is usually quite supportive of my orientation, but has always expressed a dislike for homosexual males. To him, people who have reacted to the phrase are being oversensitive, and they are simply demanding political correctness. However, while this may just be a pompous demand over childish vernacular, it must be taken into account that the word “gay” has the most commonly accepted, and certainly the friendliest, term used to address a homosexual, male or female, since the 1970s. The fact that this word is also attributed to any negative happenstance that occurs causes its degradation to all people, and takes away its safety to the homosexual community.

In order to inflict change, steps can be taken to show that you care enough about the matter at hand to stand up for it. In this case, those interested in making their mark can go to thinkb4youspeak.com. The site offers several ways to get involved with the effort, including a personal pledge to “Not use anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) language or slurs. Intervene, if you safely can, in situations where students are being harassed. Support efforts to end bullying and harassment”. Visitors to the website can also submit their own ideas for sayings to replace “That's so gay,” as well as send e-cards to spread awareness and to gain further support for this cause. Another option for supporters of the cause is to participate in a Day of Silence. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GSLEN) sponsors several such events throughout the year; the day of silence is typically in the second week of April. The event's website aids potential participants in signing up to be counted, purchasing themed merchandise to advertise, and pages to register GSAs and other advocacy groups for involvement in the Day. Finally, the simplest way to curb the phrase “That's so gay,” and other similar phrases, is to stop saying it yourself. Check yourself when you see something that strikes you as dumb or stupid, and watch your tongue. If one of your friends says the phrase, ask them why. Make them think before they just utter pointless, hurtful chatter. All of the groups, advertisements, and events can never compare with the small act of one person addressing another; one heart needs to touch another if this movement can make headway.

By saying “That's so gay,” the speaker, whether or not they realize it, demeans the entire homosexual populous. The phrase spreads a sort of subconscious homophobia, which has turned viral in recent years. Despite its widespread use, though, change can happen, if people realize that what they are saying is very wrong, and sounds completely nonsensical and unintelligent. Words have power, whether they are used properly or improperly. Consider the way you would feel if, instead of saying “gay,” the common phrase was “That's so straight.” While most people do not solely define themselves by their sexual orientation, having a word that describes it used as an insult can be hurtful nonetheless. You probably wouldn't like to have an essence of yourself, a part of your life, targeted and trivialized. It shouldn't be cool to say that something is gay. This phrase should not be socially acceptable. Think about the words you use to describe the strange, the odd, the down-right stupid. And for those of you who do say “That's so gay,” knock it off!



  1. wow, I never even realized how often I have used that phrase. I will make my best attempt to refrain from using it and to find an alternative.

  2. I agree with the essay (which, by the way, was excellent).
    I hear it mostly through kids my brother's age and younger. It's really sad.