LGBT youth volunteer Thomas Wales writes for PinkNews on the need for society to do more to stamp out homophobic language.
Following the equal marriage bill receiving the overwhelming support of MPs this month, the LGBT community are almost equal in law. However, sadly homophobic language and anti-gay slurs remain endemic in our society; we often hear this language on a daily basis in one way or another and many see it as ok.
The biggest challenge to face LGBT people are the attitudes towards the community and the language used in everyday situations by everyone.
According to Stonewall, within our schools more than 99% of LGBT young people have heard the phrases “That’s so gay” or “You’re so gay”. This use of the homophobic words often goes unnoticed and unchallenged.
When I was at school a few years ago this language was, to my despair, totally ignored by those entrusted to teach us. Three out of five lesbian and gay young people have skipped school as a result of being bullied.
Teachers should pay attention to these figures and take action; the amount of support and resources to support teachers and their schools is massive and easily available but rarely used. The use of homophobic language whether in jest or not is still the first refuge of homophobic attitudes that can lead to bullying.
Wherever we look anti-gay language is being used. According to the popular site NoHomophobes.com – which is designed to look at every tweet we send via Twitter for homophobic related language – 293,703 tweets were sent last week containing the word ‘faggot’
With all these negative phrases going around freely in society many in the LGBT community believe it is wrong to be themselves – but we need to tackle this problem and get the message out loud, proud and clear that this is simply not true.
Everyone should be proud of who they are regardless of their sexual preference or mannerisms and be open about who they are.
The alarming increasing amount of self harm and suicides among LGBT individuals and those who are questioning their sexuality is simply shocking and I feel disappointed that our government and society in general is failing to tackle the problem sufficiently.
However, LGBT people are now trying to reclaim these homophobic slurs for their own. You’ve heard of the Four Poofs and the Piano, course you have – they were entertainers from BBC’s ‘Friday Night with Jonathan Ross’ and if you haven’t the clue is in their name. There are four gay singers who can play the piano. This is not the only example of where we have reclaimed language that is so often used in an offensive manner for ourselves.
We tend to see this commonly in our nightlife; weekly events such as ‘HOMO’ (Monday: Mission2 Leeds) and ‘Queer-do’ (Saturday: Mission2 Leeds) are prime examples. Even our nightclubs are named after negative terms such as QUEER (Manchester) and the famous G-A-Y, like words often associated with race and racism is it now time the LGBT community reclaim and re-invent such negative words as their own.
The use of this language is normally casual and not offensive, or meant to be offensive. However, we shouldn’t accept this kind of negative homophobic words. The Oxford English Dictionary in itself defines the word ‘gay’ as meaning foolish and un-impressive without attaching a negative tag to it – unlike similar racist words.
There is a fine line to walk between re-inventing a word and making sure that negative uses of the same word are identified and made clear. An online petition is campaigning against this definition, I would suggest you to sign this and see what impact we can make. Sign it here.
Changing our society begins at changing the way we educate and as our most formative years are spent at school, it should be at school that our young are taught about negative and positive uses of words.
It is especially so when these words can have such an impact on vulnerable members of our communities who are already struggling to come to terms with their feelings.
Simply let’s make it clear from an early age that using some words negatively is wrong!
Thomas Wales is an LGBT youth volunteer. He tweets @thomaswales