Jul 272011

A great (and somewhat snarky) piece by intern Katie Davis on frequent ways people use unacceptable language, and the excuses they make about it once they are called out. Katie also makes some suggestions as to ways to actually talk to pe0ple about why it’s not ok/can be hurtful to use language in such ways.

Sometimes I think that narrow-mindedness is like the flu: it’s highly unpleasant, contagious, and comes in waves. It’s been a challenging week for me, one in which I’ve been consistently privy to the homophobic/transphobic/queerphobic remarks of the people around me. I’m not talking about teaching moments in the classroom–– I’m talking about day-to-day interactions with strangers, coworkers, friends, and family. And while listening to hatred and prejudice is upsetting enough, I’ve found myself even angrier and more exasperated by the “defenses” posited by those whom I’ve confronted about their comments.

As far as bad excuses for bad behavior go, there seem to be a few particularly common ones that folks caught using hate speech like to toss around. Though I sometimes feel like responding to these excuses with nothing but a shocked silence or an “Um, NO,” I’ve learned over the years that, in order to (a) present an argument coherent enough to potentially change the offending party’s way of speaking in the future and (b) prevent my own head from exploding in frustration, it’s best for me to keep a few good rejoinders in my back pocket. These are some of the common lame excuses I’ve
heard and some of the more successful arguments I’ve made in response.

1. The Michael Scott Defense

Excuseplanation: “I wasn’t using [insert homophobic slur] to talk about gay people, I was using it to talk about something that I think is stupid.”

I call this one the Michael Scott Defense because there’s a line on The Office where Steve Carell’s socially inept character, Michael Scott, responds to
accusations of homophobic speech by remarking: “Did you know that gay used to mean ‘happy?’ When I was growing up, it meant ‘lame.’” While the line’s meant to highlight the character’s insensitivity and foolishness, there really are people (some of whom I’ve encountered) who feel that it’s entirely acceptable to use homophobic slurs or use terms associated with the LGBTQ community as slurs to talk about things they dislike.

Response: “No one person, including you, gets to choose the meaning of words. You may say that you weren’t using that word to refer to gay/bisexual/trans/queer people, but historically that word has been used to refer to people who identify as such. When you use ‘gay,’ for example, when you really mean ‘stupid,’ you’re saying essentially that gay=stupid. And that’s a huge problem. If what you mean is that rush hour in traffic is awful, why not just say that? You’re message will be more clear, and you won’t offend people.”

2. The “Behind Their Back” Defense

Excuseplanation: “Well, I would never call an actual gay person [insert slur].”
Ughh. I hear this one way too frequently, often when people don’t know that I’m queer. This excuse usually translates into either “I didn’t mean it that way” (See The Michael Scott Defense) or “I would never say that to his/her/hir face.”

Response: “Hmm. So you have the ability to discern the sexuality of every person you meet? Don’t you think it’s possible that you could encounter an ‘actual gay person’ and not even know it? Anyways, if you know that that’s an offensive enough term that you wouldn’t say it to an LGBTQ person’s face, why would you say it at all?”

3. The Comedian Defense

Excuseplanation: “It was a joke! [Comedian/Comedy show] says it all the time!”

This excuse tends to put me on the defensive: I love comedy, and I think going through life with a sense of humor is important. But that doesn’t mean I have to see humor in “jokes” that simply restate social prejudices. That kind of comedy’s not just offensive–– it’s also just plain lazy.

Response: “Aren’t good jokes supposed to change the way we think? I have a sense of humor, but I don’t really see the ‘joke’ in denigrating a minority group. You’re free to enjoy whatever kind of comedy you like, but I think I’d rather not join you in that one.”

Feel free to use these in your own lives, or add other excuses/replies in the comments

Oct 202010

Today is October 20, 2010. It is the day people have claimed as spirit day, to come together, unite, and stand against bullying. I believe it is specifically designed to support the stop of homophobic and transphobic bullying, but really, let’s be honest. All bullying needs to stop.

Whether you’re calling someone gay, or teasing someone about pronouns, or stuffing freshmen in trashcans, or being racist, or playing practical jokes, or emotionally, mentally or physically hurting someone, it’s not ok. Period.

We get in a cycle. We were bullied, so it therefore, SOMEHOW makes it ok for us to bully others. I heard it all the time in high school; they threw eggs at us, so we should throw eggs at next year’s freshmen.

No. Stop it. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE should have to endure bullying. Not at any age, not for any reason. Period.

So stop policing people’s gender. Stop making fun of people for how they present themselves. Stop trying to out people. Stop making fun of people’s heights, weights, hair, race, age, gender, orientation, ability levels, class level, you name it. Why the hell would you do that? Is it because you’re afraid that if you don’t bully others, someone will bully you?

We need to stop bullying period, whether it is words, or physical actions, or cyber bullying, or stupid pranks played on people. This affects far more than just the LGBTQ community, although that is currently at the forefront. This affects all teens and young adults; all youth can be and usually are negatively affected by bullying, whether they are the ones doing it, or the ones being bullied. We need to protect the youth we have, help to create safer spaces for them to learn and grown.

The make it better project is one step. Let’s empower youth to create change in their own communities. Let’s give options to get out aggression other than hurting people. Let’s create communities of varied identities where people can share themselves, and feel safe with their peers.

Let’s ASK THE YOUTH. As adults, we can come in with all sorts of fancy schmancy “answers” to these situations, but honestly, kids, teens and young adults know what they need more than we do. They know what’s going on, what needs to happen, what needs to stop, what spaces need to be created. So let’s ask them what they need, and how we can help, and then help them,

I’m wearing purple today, not because I love Gogol Bordello (although I do). I’m wearing purple today in remembrance of all those over the years for whom bullying has pushed over the edge. For all those who have been hurt, directly and indirectly, by bullying. But I am also wearing purple today to encourage the creation of change, in looking towards the future. Without change, we are nothing.

Are you wearing purple? And what are you going to do to back up your statement?


Spirit Day 2010

Apr 282010

Dear Mayor,

I am fairly new to Arizona, having moved here this past fall with my partner from Colorado.

The day SB1070 passed and was signed was the day we thought we’d made a mistake about moving here. It is shameful to us to be living in a state that so blatantly perpetuates racism and racial profiling. Immigration may in fact be an issue here, but as I’m sure you know, this bill does nothing but legalize hatred, and give cart blanche to individual officers to discriminate as they will. I’m afraid that it will spread not only racism, but also include homophobia and transphobia, as those following this law make those who do not fit into society’s gender standards show their documentation, and begin to pull over cars with HRC stickers and rainbows. I am not prepared to carry around my birth certificate and/or passport with me at all times; no one should have to do this.

I have hope in you, sir, that you will do the right thing and begin the steps to create a discrimination and inequality suit that will get this law declared unconstitutional. I have hope that you will make us change our mind about this state, show us that there are people will to stand up for right, for equality, for human rights.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me about this issue, and I look forward to seeing you stand up for justice for all,


Note:  Discussion that is respectful is appreciate.  Any and all rude and hateful comments will be deleted.