Recently, like everyone else of color who has ever written anything online, I was sent a study from the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta in Canada chronicling the various forms of homophobia found on social media.
Highlighting how pervasive anti-gay sentiments remain, the study revealed that the word “faggot” and all its variations have been used over 2.5 million times on Twitter. Those variants include words and phrases like “dyke” (300,000 tweets), “no homo” (800,000 tweets) and the increasingly proper “so gay” (800,000 tweets).
On the study, Dr. Kristopher Wells, the Institute’s Associate Director said: “We never imagined the scale of casual homophobia that actually exists on social media. The use of homophobic language remains one of the few socially acceptable forms of discrimination in our society and make no mistake, leads to isolation, bullying, beatings, and tragically youth suicide.”
In response comes the launch of the site nohomophobes.com, which is described as a “social mirror” designed to get supporters of gays and tolerance to encourage their peers online to let go of their casual homophobia with the hashtag #nohomophobes.
Dr. Fern Snart, Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta argues: “The use of homophobic language only serves to hurt, stereotype, and further isolate sexual minority students and we need to take a stand; ignoring such language is not an option.”
Dr. Wells added in the press release for the project: “Our use of casual homophobia must end. We are all responsible to put a stop to it. The lives of our youth, and the humanity of our society depends upon it.”
The iSMSS argues that the kind of casual homophobia found in their study contribute to the “continued alienation, isolation and — in some tragic cases — suicide of sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ) youth.”
While I find this initiative well-intentioned, it gives off a whiff of déjà vu.
When I read about this study I immediately thought about the NAACP “symbolically burying the n-word” in 2007. How many of you poured a little liquor on the ground in memoriam and proceeded to kick the term out of your lexicon for good? How about those women who use the word “b*tch” as both a positive and pejorative as they see fit? Have any campaigns changed
I absolutely hate the word faggot and can’t stand the insecurity behind ‘no homo.’ Still, when it comes to the idea of policing people online, I wonder how far such a plot goes in the grand scheme of things.
Likewise, I wonder how many gays themselves can effectively move this agenda. How can I convince someone to say faggot when I can’t even get some gay people not to?
I worry if I even have the right to try.
Me: “Stop saying faggot. #nohomophobes”
Other gay person: “Hold up, don’t you say n*gga?”
Me: “I do.”
Other gay person: “Then shut up, n*gga.”
At one point, I stopped using the n-word based on a similar premise to that which iSMSS poses – i.e. the ugliness and historic connotations of the term. I ultimately reverted, pretty much instead choosing to adhere to the logic behind A Tribe Called Quest’s “Sucka N*gga.”
In that same tradition, plenty of gays I know use and embrace “punk,” “sissy,” and call each other “girl” with love. Do I always get it? Not in every instance, but I’ve applied that logic when it’s suited me. People value words differently. How many more terms and phrases do we have to debate to reach this same conclusion?
We could all engage each other in the semantics over it, but it’s all essentially symptoms of systematic problems, not their causes. That ultimately makes this study a bit too simple insofar as combating a complicated issue.
I’m more concerned about the roles that religion and patriarchy play in the way people choose to look down on me as a gay man. I’d rather challenge those models over trying to make people tweet the way I want them to. As for those struggling with suicide, I blame President Reagan for slashing mental health funds decades ago and no one picking up the slack since then – something sweeter tweets can’t compensate for.
But for others that see otherwise, and plan on joining the “Stop Tweeting Like That!” troop, I salute you. No really, I get that we’re all trying to fight homophobia.
Some of us just have to employ different methodology.