27 Jul 2011


I’m going to be a bit controversial now.

As some one that is interested in the written word I am interested in language. I like utilising expressive language, and using odd, uncommon and out dated words.  I like inventing words like ‘gloatification’, which is the act of gloating including physical action, such as pointing or gesticulating. 
That’s why I am interested in this recent article:

The article is about Warren Bowers a homosexual primary school teacher who has banned the word “gay” from his class because he feels that its current use is a form of prejudice. Mr. Bowers says:

"It does need to be explained that homophobic language is not OK ... it's kind of a last bastion of accepted prejudice."

I note that 2011 has been an interesting year so far for the gay community.

12 Jan 2011 – A gay Christchurch couple say homophobic slurs and repeated attacks have forced them to close their bakery.

President Barack Obama has formally signed off on ending the ban on gays serving openly in the US military. 

Gay marriage is legal in New York State

And in July it has been 25 years since the homosexual law reform bill came in to being in New Zealand. 

As a child of the 80’s I can remember the cold war on TV, President Regan and Margaret Thatcher and the threat of the big red button, advertisements for fallout shelters. I also recall a conversation at a High School economics class in which the teacher asked us what we should do about the AIDS epidemic.  You couldn't shoot infected gay people as then they’d bleed infected blood everywhere. The general consensus was that the infected gay community should be gassed so it would not spread.  

Shocking? Now it seems so. That a teacher would discuss something as awful as mass murder with kids seems appalling. And yet that was the mentality of many at the time.

Are we seeing a resurgence of that homophobic mindset with a new generation?  I don’t think so. From what I can observe this new generation have adapted the word ‘gay’ as an adjective for dumb. I don’t doubt that the origin for this adaptation has its roots in prejudice, but whatever the origin, for a whole generation it now has a new meaning quite separate to gay identity.

For example my partner caught her daughter using it. When my partner pointed out that the character (and I believe the actor) Kurt from Glee, one of her daughter’s favourite TV shows was gay, and using that word negatively would be upsetting to him, she instantly stopped using gay. But until then she had not made the connection because the word meant something entirely different to her.

This is reflected in the Stuff article.  amongst students its use was endemic. One said, quote:

"It's not good if someone is using it as an offensive word to someone ... but if you're just talking about if the teacher gives you extra homework, that shouldn't be as bad."

Being a teenager is difficult. So I can only imagine being a gay or lesbian teenager must be dreadfully difficult at times. I don’t know what is worse, being bullied or experiencing your (new) identity being associated with being dumb or lame by your friends and peers.

However while I sympathise with the gay community about this situation I do think the horse has bolted. I doubt that banning the word “gay” from the class room will help educate children to understand that using gay as a negative term could be hurtful to a gay student or a student with gay friends or family. In fact by banning it aren’t you insinuating that the word is negative? Only profanity was banned when I was at school.

Language evolves all the time. As indicated by a recent North and South magazine article regarding the meaning of the word viral. The medical profession may have to utilise a new word to describe viral, as its meaning is being convoluted. And I suspect that is what we are seeing now. The use of the word gay to describe something a “dumb” has been fairly prevalent for years and doesn’t seem to be going away.

I don’t know what this means for the gay community. It may mean that the gay kids of today might re-invent themselves through a new word? I honestly can’t say. Only time will tell.

I do think though that a better way to educate children would be through frank and open discussion leading to understanding rather than a ban.

1 comment:

  1. Prohibition has a stunning history of success, probably in part because people love to be told what they can and can't do.