Posts Tagged ‘hillary duff’

that’s so gay

November 20, 2008

With all of the recent furor over gay rights, it seems fitting to highlight a recent series of PSA’s that attempt to address the issue of homophobia at its source: kids.

I realize my previous statement is a bit foolish; trying to pinpoint a source of homophobia is like trying to walk to the end of a treadmill, but the simple fact is homophobia is a learned behavior and if kids never learn it (or perhaps unlearn it) then eventually it will dissipate.  That’s why discrimination takes generations to overcome in any form.  It’s not like Martin Luther King had a dream and the next day everyone woke up and said, “You know, I think I’m going to stop being racist today.”  As for LGBT rights, the progress made in the last two decades is pretty astounding, but clearly, as evidenced by the recent election results, there’s plenty more work to be done.

As a former high school teacher, I can attest that homophobic language and attitudes are alive and well in today’s schools.  Yes, the overall atmosphere is safer and more inclusive than it was when I was a high school student (which isn’t all that long ago), but anyone paying attention while walking down a crowded hallway will hear a fair share of bigoted language.  Actually, the synthesis of new words can almost be amusing.  “Queertard” and “Gaywad” being some of the newer additions to the old standbys like “faggot” and “cocksucker.” Most of these words, though, have a clear, negative connotation among their users.  Yes, such hateful language should not be used so lightly in any context, but a high school student knows he or she is being pejorative when using such words (even if they don’t know what pejorative means.)

Homophobia doesn’t start with words like “faggot.” Those words are somewhere in the middle between quiet ostracism and physical violence.  Stopping harsh language like “faggot” will never eliminate homophobia; a kid can be taught to avoid certain words, but the hate that allowed those words to enter the lexicon will still be there.  You’ve got to start much earlier.

And that’s where the Thinkb4youspeak campaign is aiming.  In a series of three PSA’s starring Hillary Duff and Wanda Sykes, kids who without thinking say “that’s so gay” to mean stupid, get a little comeuppance.

And that’s so smart. Kids who say “that’s gay” rarely connect what they are saying to any level of homophobia.  In the moment, they are simply repeating an oft-used idiom that to them has no meaning beyond expressing their distaste for the subject at hand.  Anecdotally, I would say that 90% of the students I had who would say “that’s gay” had no real ill-will towards the LGBT community.  Whereas the majority of students who would use the word “faggot” were truly homophobic, at least on a basic level.  The “that’s gay” kids had gay friends and openly supported gay rights; the “faggot” kids did not.  What the “that’s gay” kids failed to realize, at least unaided, was that every time they used gay in a negative context, they were subtly reinforcing the homophobia among the “faggot” kids.  Certainly they weren’t endorsing it, but on a very basic level they were condoning it, and thus continuing a cycle of hate and ignorance that leads to the kind of discrimination and violence prevalent in all battles for civil rights.  Meanwhile, the students struggling with their own sexuality, the ones desperately seeking allies among their peers, were experiencing mixed signals.  They think they know their friends are accepting, but then again, can they be trusted?  What do they really think?

My point is, this series of PSA’s may seem naive.  It might seem unrealistic to think that changing how a kid thinks about the words “that’s so gay” will have any impact on homophobia in the “real” world.  And to a certain extent, it is.  However, if you really want to create change, you have to start at the beginning.  If you take a brick out of the middle, the foundation remains intact, in this case a foundation for homophobia and hate.  But if you take a brick from the bottom, the whole thing will come down and you can rebuild from scratch with a foundation built on acceptance and understanding.

Check out a CNN interview with Hillary Duff here.