July 22, 2012
‘Gay’ as a ‘synonym for shitty’
I would like you to do something for me. Think back to your day, your week, even your month and count the times you have heard the word ‘gay’ as a ‘synonym for shitty’. Are you surprised by the results?
‘that’s so gay’
According to Stonewall’s School Report 2012, a staggering 99% of gay pupils hear, ‘that’s so gay’ and ‘you’re so gay’ in school.
“It’s incredibly widespread-“ the report says, “90 per cent or more of students refer to anything broken, defective or unwanted as gay.”
The word ‘gay’ has become normalised, its meaning shaped and reformed so that it takes up room in our daily lexicon – we have become almost numb to it.
“Some teachers and pupils don’t challenge such language because they suggest ‘the word “gay” is now used so commonly as an insult it shouldn’t be taken as anything personal’, that it’s ‘not meant to be offensive to gay people’.”
But the fact of the matter is, the use of the word in this context may be insulting, but it may also be harmful. Damaging pupil’s academic progress, self-esteem and mental health. With, according to the report, 41% of pupils who have suffered from homophobic bullying contemplating suicide or self-harm.
children learn by example
I heard from one teacher (who I will refer to as Miss X) working with children aged 3 to 11 who told me that she hears children taunting each other using the word gay from a very young age.
“The younger ones copy the older ones and they don’t usually begin to understand what it means until they are in year 5 and 6 (9-11). I can think of a very recent incident where a parent taunted a pupil (aged 9) and the boy’s mother reported the incident to school. We dealt with the issue but it makes me sad that even parents get involved in bullying at an early age.”
The School Report goes on to say that 17% of gay pupils have heard school staff and teachers making homophobic comments. They support this with a number of quotes including this one from a 14 year old in a North East based boarding school.
“I hear teachers using the word ‘gay’ in a negative way just as much as I hear the word being used by students. I don’t think in a way directed towards people, just in the slang term that it’s become. It still isn’t great.”
There are of course many good people doing their part for diversity and tackling homophobia in schools. I am thinking here of Elly Barnes, a music teacher working at Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form. In the Times Educational Supplement (TES) Award, Barnes was highly commended in the ‘most inspirational teacher’ category for acting as a role model and educating pupils around LGBT issues (Gay Star News). You can find more about Elly Barnes and the work at Stoke Newington by reading this Ofsted report ‘Good Practice resource – A whole-school approach to tackling homophobic bullying and ingrained attitudes: Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form.’
There is also good work being done in primary education within some schools. Miss X told me that her school takes instances of the use of the word ‘gay’ very seriously and they have strict measures in place to avoid the situation escalating. The pupils at Miss X’s school are lucky because they have two openly gay staff members who, ‘lead by example’ and ‘celebrate diversity’. She went on to say however,
“Unfortunately, it is not like that in every school. I think people need to be educated. It is very effective when a child says to his or her parent that they don’t like them to use the word gay in a bad way. Parents tend to listen to their children.”
This is a powerful message. Acceptance and diversity should be taught as early as possible, and sometimes it is the young who must teach the old what kind of future they want for themselves and the world in which they live.
‘gay’ as a ‘synonym for shitty’
Aside from anything else, the use of the word gay as a ‘synonym for shitty’ is just plain old lazy. I despair that our wonderful and rich lexicon is being ‘dumbed down’ in such a way. In 1948 George Orwell wrote the classic 1984, and personally I believe that he sums things up rather well.
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? … Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsiding meanings rubbed out and forgotten … Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller…”
what can you do?
Well if you are really interested then click onto the Stonewall website and read the report in full. It is really accessible and highlights some key problems within the education sector. You also might discover some tips and advice on how to move forward. But if you don’t have a few hours to spare, there is one thing that each and every one of us can do. It is really simple and actually involves doing nothing…absolutely nothing. Together, you can…we can…remove the use of the word ‘gay’ as a ‘synonym for shitty’. Simple. So if you do say it…
…hang it up on the shelf and let it gather some dust. It’s easier than quitting smoking and helps everyone involved. Say no to passive smoke. Or something like that.
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‘Define Me’ – Ryan Amador (featuring Jo Lampert)
The song DEFINE ME was released exclusively on Ryan Amador’s bandcamp (http://www.ryanamador.bandcamp.com/) in conjunction with Ryan’s live performance at the True Colors LGBT Youth Conference on March 22nd. It was produced by David Baloche for Grove Street Studios. 100% of its proceeds will be donated to organizations actively involved with the LGBT equality campaign. http://www.ryanamador.com/
April 22, 2013