Public homophobia undermines gay security

October 26, 2010 — by Anika Jhalani

“They wear these little Speedos and they grind against each other and it’s just a terrible thing,” said Republican New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino as he recently described gay pride parades.

An air of ignorance that was once mild has transformed into a slap in the face every time a few words are uttered. It is appalling that a high-profile man like Paladino would dare to disparage and embarrass an entire community. Yet his discrimination has roots beyond politics, stemming from the education system, where students are growing up with the ignorance that forces most homosexuals to stay quiet about their sexuality.

The derogatory language associated with gays has turned into a seemingly unstoppable force of bullying. The worst part is, it’s often unintentional. Some of these words are obviously referring to homosexuals, such as “that’s so gay” and “homo.” However, other words’ meanings and origins, like flamers, are more obscure. Most people do not know that the words “faggot” and “flamer” both loosely refer to the burning at the stake of homosexuals; “faggots” were bundles of sticks used to set the flame, and “flamers” obviously refer to the flames of the fire.

Unfortunately, these words have been weaved into our vernacular and are being accepted as normal. Cussing is frowned upon, but derogatory words slamming homosexuals are accepted as a fad among teens. In our own school, using the f-word can prompt a visit to the assistant principal’s office, whereas using a slur against gays usually goes unnoticed.

Derogatory language is responsible for distinguishing a line between homo and heterosexuals. These words, which are all used to describe something negative, constantly link negativity with homosexuality. Words like these are the cause for gays to “stay in the closet.” They are so fearful of how they will be perceived because the world portrays homosexuality as a horrible and forbidden path.

Fear of this discrimination has produced unfair policies such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which expels gays and lesbians from the military if they reveal their sexual orientation. This policy not only inhibits individuals’ right to freedom of expression but also darkens the line between acceptance of homosexuality and utter denial. It is hard to imagine that someone would serve a country that forbids him or her to be themselves, but many closeted gays continue to loyally serve this nation. To date, more than 13,000 gays have been discharged from the army because their refusal to live a life in secret. The requirement that all homosexuals must stay quiet about their sexuality is ridiculous; it fuels further discrimination against gays.

A recent and tragic example of the fear of homosexuality is the story of Tyler Clementi, a student who committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly recorded and streamed a video of Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man. Later that night, a man believed to be Clementi entered a gay chat forum and expressed his disbelief with the fact that people were sympathizing with Ravi because he had to “deal with” a gay roommate, when the focus of the situation should have been on Clementi’s violated privacy. If Clementi had been kissing a female student, would this have been an issue at all? This heartbreaking story highlights our society’s grotesque homophobia and the bullying that stems from it.

Unfortunately, the rights for homosexuals are often compromised because of common public fear. The profanity used against gays needs to be punished, especially in the classroom. We cannot afford to have our future leaders grow up with the idea that bullying homosexuals is acceptable. The issue of gay rights has transcended from one of granting tangible rights to freedom of speech, work and marriage to one of granting the birthright of human safety and acceptance. Agreeing with or encouraging the rights of homosexuals is a different matter, but openly attacking homosexuals it is intolerable, and this bullying must stop.

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