Over the past few days I’ve heard many arguments decrying the strongly violent rhetoric directed at liberals and Democrats by conservatives. The best example is probably the 2010 Nevada Republican nominee for Senate, Sharron Angle, who said last year “2nd Amendment remedies” might be needed if the election didn’t work out in her favor (which it didn’t), apparently suggesting gun violence as a solution for political opposition. Obviously, these arguments were brought about by the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), whose district was marked with an ostensible bull’s eye symbol by Sarah Palin’s PAC. The basic idea is that such speech can incite unbalanced people to do psychotic things, namely going on killing sprees.
Yet at the same time, I know many people who either make these arguments or agree with them but for some reason refuse to accept the idea that anti-LGBT language has any considerable part in causing anti-LGBT bullying and violence. Sadly, I imagine many of these people are themselves gay. I’ve certainly known gay people who say things like, “that’s gay,” and most people justify this by arguing the phrase isn’t about gay people, that they’re just saying something’s lame, stupid or messed up (like Charlotte’s Y2 Yoga did this week). Explain to me how this does not directly equate to saying gay people are lame, stupid and messed up.
The fact is, us gay folks still identify with that word, “gay,” and everyone knows it. You know it, and young people know it. When a young person hears “gay” used in that way, it’s a pretty clear indication that it’s a bad, contemptible thing to be gay. And worse, when a young gay person who’s struggling with his or her identity hears that, I guarantee that hurt, fear and loneliness well inside them.
Personally, I was exceedingly fortunate to be raised in an environment where I always knew I’d be accepted no matter my sexual orientation, but many people are not so lucky. Even after I realized I was gay, it took me years to decide to stop saying things were “gay” and even referring to disagreeable people as “fags” and then it took more time for me to actually break the habit. I know how difficult it must be for those who aren’t even gay to do the same, but I’m certain it can be done — it just takes effort.
Gay or straight, let’s all be careful about the language we use, even in relatively relaxed social settings, because you never know how it can poison the environment. Any single bigoted cry can be easily dismissed as insignificant, but when an entire society chants the same song, it’s impossible to avoid. A loud chorus can inspire impressionable minds to do terrible, cruel things, and their victims will pay the price.