If you use 'gay' in a derogatory way, you are encouraging homophobia
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This summer has seen a number of high profile instances involving people saying things they probably shouldn’t. Jeremy Clarkson has once again proven he can’t help but insult minorities while he works on a car programme, videos of Justin Bieber have surfaced of him apparently using racist language, and Jonah Hill let loose a particularly disturbing side of himself when he shouted ‘faggot’ at someone. Racism is unacceptable, as is homophobic language such as ‘faggot’. But what I’d like to shine a light on here is, potentially, even more dangerous than that. The above two examples are clearly repellent and people do not and will not turn a blind eye to them. But the bigotry that regularly goes unchecked and uncommented upon is another use of language: using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘bad’ or ‘nasty’ or ‘undesirable’. This word was recently used in this way by One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson. One could argue he did not know he was being filmed (the video emerged online), but if the term trips off his tongue so easily, it is unlikely the first instance he has used it. He is, however, by no means the only offender. I don’t wish to play down the devastating effects racist words play in our society, nor more openly-homophobic language such as ‘faggot’, but the word ‘gay’ is becoming arguably more dangerous due to its insidious nature. Its use is becoming frequent, casual and spoken by individuals who themselves would never use other stronger terms of hatred. They may even consider themselves pro-gay, open-minded types who wouldn’t dream of restricting somebody else’s freedom to love who they wish to love. For this very reason, the word is becoming even more damaging. It is the homophobia peddled not only by true homophobes, but by those who would generally disapprove of discriminatory attitudes. I’m not going to pretend the word ‘gay’ has always meant ‘homosexual’. It has had a variety of meanings throughout history. I fully accept language changes and develops; it is a living, breathing thing that reflects the society that uses it and the cultures that manipulate it. But make no mistake about it: this changing of the word ‘gay’ to mean something undesirable is fuelled by hatred. It is not just another seamless change of the English language. It is a deliberate and direct corrupting of it in order to continue to make gay people feel abnormal, revolting, strange and unwanted. It has come about via a wave of unchecked and unchallenged homophobia that is usually presented as ‘banter’ (a term people frequently use to excuse repulsive hate speech against women, gay people, Jews, and those from non-white races). This follows a worrying trend in altering words so they become verbal weapons intended to wound and psychologically maim. Even the word ‘homosexual’ has been turned into ‘homo’, a term of playground abuse that has found its way into film, television and, more regularly, song lyrics.
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