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Stonewall have launched a new campaign, to coincide with Anti-bullying Week, which aims to combat the language choices of, particularly, school children, and to make them aware of the implications and where meanings come from.
The ‘Gay. Let’s Get The Meaning Straight’ campaign includes sending posters and guidelines to 2,500 schools across the country; they are also available online, in order to get teachers to start the discussion.
This campaign has caught my interest not simply because it’s another carefully planned and neatly executed Stonewall campaign, but because over the last few years I’ve become more aware of how the use of phrases like ‘that’s so gay’ really impact a person, on a deeper level than some realize.
I read an article recently, brought to my attention by another Vada writer, that didn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about with ‘Gay’ being redefined for better and for worse over the years. The author had a blasé feeling that trying to change what children said, was akin to telling the wind to stop blowing because it was out of our control. What he didn’t understand was that the intended result of this campaign was changing what children said, but not by just telling them, by getting them to think about the effect of these word choices, how they can affect a person, and so asks them to question whether what they say is what they mean.
I’m no stranger to hearing ‘gay’ used to mean bad. When I was in secondary school, an all boys school, the word was a barrier that slowly came up in front of me, dividing me from my peers. I would like to point out that I identify as bisexual, the way ‘gay’ was being used affected me because of its umbrella use, people will often underestimate that you don’t have to be homo/bisexual to feel the negative stigma and disgust the word gets used with.
Growing up, it made having non-heterosexual thoughts or ideas, or even interest in anything that wasn’t seen as ‘masculine’, seem lesser. Whether it was the intention of the person using it or not, they’d been taught that to be anything other than straight was the same as being bad. This association with certain words becomes ingrained in all of us. It’s why some people hate swear words that others love to use, the expression is more than just one person’s intent in a single moment of use. I used to squirm when I heard the word gay being used in public spaces, because deep down there was a horrible link that made me feel dirty for being around it, like I was being judged, like someone would know. Only recently have I stopped because I was able to identify what it was that was making me feel that way, a meaning that I no longer believed.
No-one should be made to feel that their sexuality/gender identity is going against the norm. It often goes against assumption, but assumption isn’t fact. Teachers, as much as students, can be guilty of letting something slide, or even accepting something that becomes mainstream. It takes a more enlightened and caring person to make sure that the young people they are supposed to be guiding, through the important foundation years of life, don’t bring more hate into the world. By not challenging this when they hear it they are allowing someone to think lesser of themselves and to think lesser of other people because of the way they were born. There are some aspects about ourselves that we can choose, one of them should be to stop hate in all its forms.
I do take it upon myself to question the choices people make to use ‘gay’ negatively, even when they reasonably explain ‘‘you know I don’t mean it like that’’, by asking them to really think about how that would affect you growing up, if you heard everyone saying that you were bad, less than, weak, wrong, gay. Wouldn’t you start to wonder if they were right? How scary would that be for a child?
The Stonewall ‘Gay. Let’s Get The Meaning Straight’ campaign asks you to think. Just think about what you’re saying.
More information on Stonewall available at www.stonewall.org.uk