The Ways We Ostracize

June 10, 2014
I was in the fifth grade when somebody was first called “gay” in front of me. Being straight out of Catholic school, I was clueless as to what the word meant, but judging by the reaction of the insultee, I assumed it was an insult.

I was in the sixth grade when I first was called “gay,” in a serious tone. The person saying this to me was insinuating that I myself was gay, which, at the time, was not true. Sure, I showed signs of such a thing being true, but when it happened I denied it as if my life depended on it (of course, nobody believed me, and as it turns out, they were right).

I was shocked that somebody thought that I was gay. It couldn’t ever be true, I knew I liked girls! Regardless, it continued to happen. I just dealt with it, and knew that the people saying this to me were my friends, and didn’t mean any harm by it.

The rumors continued, until I got my first girlfriend. They stopped, to an extent (they continued, but on a much lesser scale, and only in a joking manner). We lasted no more than four months, and that’s a stretch. We broke up, and the rumors came back just as strong as they had before, until we got back together.

We lasted one month, then broke up for good, under less-than-ideal circumstances.

From then on, I used the word liberally, as a joke. If a friend was irritating me, I told them to stop being so gay. After a math test, I could be heard saying that it was so gay. Everything was gay, as far as prepubescent me was concerned.

Over time, though, I learned of the word’s meaning, and realized how insulting using it in the wrong situation was (and is). By the time this epiphany came upon me, I had started using the word “faggot” almost as much as I used “gay.”

Compared to “gay,” “faggot” is a very different word. It has ties to discrimination that was prevalent throughout the early 20th century, and was often used to insult LGBTQA people, whereas “gay” was a simple adjective (still sometimes used to insult, but without the ties that “faggot” has).

Discrimination is in our blood, even when we don’t mean it. As both individuals and as a society, there are countless ways we ostracize. Here are just a few.
Name Calling





These are just a few of the common nicknames for gay kids that can be heard pretty much anywhere. Unfortunately, there are just as many describing gay girls and trans people as well, such as “trannie” or “dyke.” These words flow out of our mouths like water. Case in point: a 1998 study done by US Mental Health America showed that students hear anti-gay slurs such as “homo,” “faggot,” and “sissy” about 26 times per day, or once every 14 minutes. Often, it’s nothing personal, but why do we resort to using these words? The majority of people know how offensive they can be, but even still we use them. The fact that they’re so popular is circumstantial evidence that ostracization of LGBTQA citizens is ingrained in the blood and bones of our society.

The reason that the use of these words (and others like them) is an issue is simple. It perpetuates the thought that using them is okay, that LGBTQA people are a joke. It trivializes the struggles (and trust me when I say that there are many) that LGBTQA people go through. These words are rooted in hate, and although they might not be intended that way, they still have those connotations. It’s not your fault, or anybody else’s. We just need to be aware of it. In everyday conversation, use another word. It’s that simple: changing one word can help prevent anybody’s feelings from being hurt.
Heterosexism, or Cultural Homophobia

We all watch TV, and when we do, a lot of us watch sitcoms or dramas. One of the most common features of these shows is romantic subplots, featuring almost exclusively heterosexual couples. Very rarely do you see any same-sex couples, and when you do, they’re often depressed or mentally unstable (case-in-point: the gay couple played by Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears in American Horror Story: Murder House [aired on FX in 2011]. They are exclusively depicted as depressed, unhappy, and sexually frustrated.). Where are the happy LGBTQA couples? Not on TV, that’s for sure. Even LGBTQA actors and actresses (such as Neil Patrick Harris) have been forced to act straight for the sake of ratings.

Why do we actively avoid the concept of people being gay? We’re not afraid of gay people, are we? Of course not. No reasonable person is actually afraid of “catching the gay.” Like a lot of other topics here, it’s just a matter of what we’re familiar with. We’re used to seeing straight couples on TV. For decades, gay couples hid themselves, for fear of public ridicule, etc. But now, they’re not afraid anymore. Why, then, isn’t there a correspondence with TV programming? That’s not a question I can answer. But it is one that can be directed at TV producers and writers.

Physical Assault

Throughout history, there has been a large trend of violence and physical attacks on our LGBTQA citizens. From the early Middle Ages, where gays were often burned at the stake simply for being who they are, to today, where LGBTQA suicides comprise roughly one-third of all suicides committed in the US alone. Studies have shown that, on average, 23.5% of gay and lesbian men and women have experienced violence or another form of criminal activity directed at them as a result of their sexual orientation in their adult lives. Often, these attacks go unnoticed by authorities, even in countries where homosexuality is legal.

This sort of subconscious acceptance of physical violence against the LGBTQA community has gotten to the point where it can be found in pop culture as well. Artists and bands such as The Meatmen and Elephant Man have all promoted violence against LGBTQA people through their lyrics, with little to no repercussions or negative feedback in response.

Plenty of people claim to be against homophobia, and plenty certainly are, but if anybody actually gave a damn, then something would have happened to these artists as a result of their inciteful words (however, there certainly is a valid excuse when many people have never heard of these artists, let alone specific songs by them). The sheer fact that these songs were released to the public ear is further proof that these actions are accepted. The solution to the problem at hand is simple: don’t allow it. When you see physical assault (or any form, for that matter), don’t allow the Bystander Effect take hold of you. Take a stand against assault.

Discrimination by means of Institutionalized Homophobia

What is institutionalized homophobia? Institutionalized homophobia is the systemic discrimination against the LGBTQA community by the governments, businesses, and agencies. It identifies LGBTQA people, and discriminates against them by refusing to allocate services, goods, or care to them; denying them opportunities to advance in career, or in financial aspects; and in some cases, outlawing them.

But this doesn’t happen in real life, does it? Unfortunately, it does.

Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America had a strict “no-gay” policy among its ranks. Countless numbers of potential scouts and leaders have been turned away based on their sexuality/preference alone, simply because they “believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” Only recently did the policy come under question, with its eventual cancellation, effective January 1st, 2014.

The Boy Scouts of America is not the only group guilty of institutionalized homophobia: the US government (specifically the branches of the military) had encouraged this practice through its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for decades. Under this policy, closeted gays and lesbians were allowed to serve, but openly homosexual personnel were denied. Homophobia had come full circle. What had originated from the government and spread to the people, had come back to the government. Thankfully, this policy came to an end in 2010, when the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was enacted, bringing the policy to a close.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even some of the most basic rights are being denied to the LGBTQA community. As of today, only 18 states in the US legally recognize same-sex marriages, representing less than half of the union. Homophobia has become institutionalized in every sense of the word.
Here I am, a junior in high school. A little bit more mature, at the very least. I’ve stopped using the word “gay” as much (except for when I mean it in a literal sense), but unfortunately I can’t say the same for my classmates. I still hear it as frequently here in high school as I did in middle school, which is, to say the least, alarming when you consider the fact that middle school was four years ago.

I can’t change the world myself, that’s for sure. As far as everybody else is concerned, I’m an insignificant student writing an insignificant paper. What I can do, however, is ask for your help. It isn’t that hard, really. Be conscious of the words you use. Be aware of the businesses you support. Don’t support artists that propagate violence. If we get once classroom to stop ostracizing, it might then spread to one school, to one district, to one town, to one state, and beyond.

But it starts with you. Take these words to heart, and we could change the world.

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