As I was getting my notes together for our Monday quiz, the girls next to me were going back and forth, talking about the gossip of a boy embarrassing himself over the eventful weekend.
“Oh my God, he did that? He is such a fag!”
While the girls were chatting freely, I tried to look the other way and mind my own business. The sheer mention of a slur that puts down my sexuality makes me feel self-conscious. Even though I hear it every day, it still stings every time; “That’s so gay!” or “What a fag!”
The girls didn’t realize that using gay slurs to put others down tells queer people they aren’t good enough. My whole life, gay slurs have been directly targeted at me; telling me that who I am isn’t okay, causing me to go through depression, self doubt and years of insecurity. Even girls I have considered friends use the terms casually, as if their words mean nothing. This causes queer students to feel alone in a sea of almost 2000. Harassing others by using queer put-downs creates an environment that is uncomfortable for LGBTQ+ students. It’s time we step up, care about others and work towards the long overdue change.
When I was younger I was so focused on avoiding judgement that I would participate in using queer put-downs to fit in. Then, it hit a point where I heard the put-downs all the time and got fed up. As I have gotten older I have learned to utilize my voice and reflect on why people speak this way. ‘Why would people attack a group that is already put down in society?” I would ask myself”
Queer people are looked at differently. We just got the right to marry, are being refused from businesses and have a clear disadvantage compared to the amount of ease and opportunities straight people have. When gay slurs are used casually it dehumanizes a whole group of people and treats them as if they are below others. It’s especially discouraging to see this kind of culture accepted at my school.
Queer put-downs are said all over the school. I doubt Harbinger staffers were thinking about how disrespected I felt when they had used gay put-downs casually in my home at a deadline. It ruined my night and made me feel sick to my stomach. I felt like I was isolated, taking me back to lonely freshman year, in a place where I should otherwise find sanctuary. In my heart I know these are good people, but even when there isn’t ill intent, it doesn’t change how much the words spark queer people to criticize themselves and even spiral into depression.
It’s disheartening that I have not once seen a straight person advocate for queer people when a slur or put-down is used. What is interesting though, is that the same girls who would jump at the chance to fetishize me as their ‘gay best friend’ and ask me to take them shopping, are the ones who use these put-downs the most. I don’t understand what is motivating people to use slurs that are not theirs to reclaim. These girls are not queer themselves, have no understanding of queer culture and certainly will never go through what queer people go through.
We have to build those up in society who have not been given the same opportunities as others to promote equality. In the same way women are fighting for equal pay, queer people need their sexualities to be thought of on the same level as straight people’s.
It’s human nature to give back, hence charity work and helping countries in warfare. That’s why it’s the responsibility of those with privilege in society to actively choose to lift queer people up and treat them as equals. We especially need people with straight-privilege – those whose straight sexuality doesn’t cause injustice in their lives – to elevate others. That means knowing better than to keep calling things gay. It also means stepping in if you hear someone get called a fag, even if it is light-hearted.
For my own sanity I am willing to express views that go against such a widely accepted behavior if it will prompt the student body to recognize the need for a change. Calling people out isn’t doing anything either. It makes you question humanity when you tell people how hateful their words are, and they can’t muster up an apology. We need to urge ourselves to care of others and actually care if we make a group of people feel like they are worthless.
Even with the people who have not thought twice about their harmful words, those who have taken the time to understand why using gay slurs and put-downs hurts people, gives me hope. I believe in the power the East community has to make a change to promote awareness and respect. With my efforts and others, I would like to see a change before I graduate. It’s up to me, the administration and everyone to actively think about what we say and start to respect those from other backgrounds.