There was a time when I would sit back silently and watch as people, most of whom were my friends, used various homosexually demeaning terms to refer to things that they believed to be stupid.
At that point in my life, I restrained myself from telling my friends the way they used these words was wrong and hurtful because I cared more about how my peers viewed me than doing the right thing.
In my early adolescence I had yet to gain the confidence to stand up for what I believe in. One day it hit me, literally. My mother heard a friend call another a fag, the disappointed rage she out leashed upon us followed by a lengthy and embarrassing lecture, most of which pointed a finger at me (the loving relative of gay family members) asking how I could possibly put up with this disgraceful name calling.
Shamed by my failure to uphold what my family stands for, I realized how a single word phrased in a negative way can have a much larger effect than most think.
From that day forward I vowed to never let a “gay” or “fag” or “homo” slip by me without telling the person whose lips it left that I did not stand for that type of language. Interrupting a person in front of a group of people to tell them you are offended or that what they have said is wrong is a not an easy task, but it is a necessary one.
Simply asking someone to stop saying a phrase can plant the seed in their mind that they have wronged. Nothing will change until more people uphold this standard.
This year, I asked a close friend to not call someone a fag because it was insensitive and rude, he looked at me straight in the eyes and said he can use it because the meaning has completely changed. He affirmed that calling someone a fag and saying something is gay is no longer a homophobic term because the meanings have changed culturally.
I understand that connotations evolve. The term gay is perfect example of such a word. Prior to the 19th century it was associated with happiness and being carefree. Increasingly in the 20th century gay referred to homosexuality but today its pejorative meaning for many young people is something they do not like, think is lame or do not approve of.
I do not believe that just because many people use gay to mean stupid, it no longer negatively affects a homosexual. The same goes for saying fag, it still is hurtful.
Using these words is a form of homophobia, it is lazy and lacks creativity. I hope that the people I associate my self with are better than that and are smart and respectful enough to think of another word to use in place of gay.
The organization, ThinkB4youspeak urges youth and adults to halt the use of this terminology with their catchphrase, “saying that’s so gay is so yesterday.” Organizations like this and many others ask us to be conscious of the language we use on a daily basis and try to make others think before they speak.
We should not stop with just calling out people for using negative terms about sexuality, we need to consider the consequences of calling someone a retard or a slut or a religious slur. Just because words are commonly accepted to say in our culture does not mean using them flies.
Think before you speak and next time you hear someone say something offensive, even if it may not offend you, call them out for their wrong.
Hayley studied journalism, politics and international media at the University of Colorado—Boulder. In between juggling school and various jobs, she makes time to snowboard, travel, write and craft. She surrounds herself with people that motivate and embrace her as she strives to make a difference in anyway she can. Follow her on twitter.