I’m doing a class with 7th and 8th graders on leadership and diversity. Today I asked them to brainstorm a list of words they thought of when they heard the phrase “Sexual Orientation”. One girl raised her hand but then stopped herself:
“I’m not sure of the word. I don’t think I should say it.”
I tried to assure her that it wouldn’t be held against her if she used a less-than-appropriate word. I’d rather her take the risk and speak openly and honestly and, if necessary, I would provide her with better language. She ultimately opted not to share.
Another student then offered “homosexuality”.
“That’s what I meant! Well. Sort of. That word… but the bad one.”
I thought for sure she meant “faggot”, a decidedly ugly and hurtful word that has unfortunately worked its way into too many young people’s vocabulary.
“Do you mean the G-word?” someone else asked.
“Yea… that one.”
“You mean ‘gay’?” I said.
“Um, yea…” she said sheepishly.
I had to stop right there and explain how the word gay, itself, is not a bad one. It is a word that many people happily and proudly identify themselves as. The use of the word gay to denote something as negative… that is an issue. Etc, etc, etc. I explained that I understand that they were likely told not to use it, but what they should have been told was not to use it as a pejorative. Otherwise, it is a perfectly acceptable word to use when talking respectfully about sexual orientation.
This time, I’m relatively certain that we went too far in making these kids thing that they couldn’t use the word “gay” to discuss sexual orientation in an academic setting.
(And, yes, for those playing at home, I’m definitely making all these kids straight ‘mo. The Liberal Agenda will not be stopped!)