“That’s so gay.”
It’s a phrase most of us have heard, some of us even say. It's heard in the halls, in class, with friends and is very well one of the most widespread examples of homophobic language in school. Whether you're aware of it or not, it is a problem not just bound by school walls and has been heavily debated over the years.
According to Wordorgins.org, the word gay dates back to the 12th century, from the Old French word “gai”, which meant “full of joy or mirth.” The word continued to evolve resulting in the way it is used today, as a socially accepted term for homosexual people. The word, however, is rooted in the classification of certain types of people as clandestine or going against the respectable conventions of society. This brings us back to the way it is used today, which started in the 90s. When it’s used to mean something “stupid” or “lame”, it carries with it a history of negative judgment and rigid ideas about who or what is acceptable.
According to Npr.org, the word “faggot” was first used to describe a bundle of sticks in the 1300s. It then appeared in the U.S sometime in the 20th century to refer to men who were less masculine than people believed they should be. As the century continued, it began to be used as a slur against gay men or men perceived as gay. Now internalized homophobia results in it being an insult to any man, used in jokes and as humiliation with mostly heterosexual men. The word carries the baggage of violent history and it shouldn’t be used in the careless manner people do today.
The intention of people who use language like this is the main cause for debate. With the way language evolves, it is not seen as insulting and oftentimes students don’t even realize what they’re saying. However, this poses an entirely new problem, for people who are actually LGBTQ. Using language like “That’s so gay,” or “faggot” reinforces the notion that being LGBTQ is wrong or bad. If we use these types of phrases to mean “stupid,” “useless,” or “bad,” than that’s exactly how LGBTQ people will feel and it builds an atmosphere of disrespect and isolation.
According to GLSEN, 81.3 percent of LGBTQ students say hearing “gay” or “queer” being used in a negative manner causes them to feel distressed or bothered, as of 2012.
The fact of the matter is that the intent does not negate or makeup for harmful effects that such language carries.
Using homophobic language doesn’t necessarily make person homophobic, it just makes them ignorant to the words they use. People typically don’t realize the effect their language has on others or are oblivious to how hurtful it is. They copy what others say without second thought. The best way to change this is to educate others on why this type of language is not okay. In time people will hopefully become more aware of what they say.