A mother thinks it’s wrong for her son to use the term “gay” in casual conversation to poke fun at his friends. Her son doesn’t agree. Is it ok for young people to use this term? We look at both sides of the argument in this week’s A Problem Shared.
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I need help to stop to my 13 year-old son using inappropriate language. He and his friends are constantly calling each other ‘gay’, or that something they do is ‘gay’, or something they have is ‘gay’. It really, really makes me angry to hear them say this. I’ve tried asking him to stop saying it but he just says that’s the way they talk. I’m just too old and out of touch to understand.
Why is it’s ok for them to use the word ‘gay’ like it’s something negative or something to poke fun at? I would have thought that in this day and age acceptance of other people’s sexuality would not be an issue. I just can’t understand why they need to use this word. How can I get my son to stop using the word without making it sound as though I’m nagging him or am out of touch?
Our FamilyPoint Advice
Your concern is totally understandable. As a parent we don’t want our child to use inappropriate language that can be considered as derogatory towards a group of people. But as your son has already pointed out to you, there are different opinions about the use of this term amongst young people. But does this make it right?
The argument against:
Stonewall, a leading equality charity for LGBTQI, does not agree with the use of language like this. They believe that saying things like “that’s so gay” to describe something as being rubbish or undesirable is wrong. They say that this reinforces the idea that being gay is something bad, to be feared or poked fun at.
This is something that Stonewall is taking seriously. They have spoken to 3,700 lesbian, gay, bi and trans pupils in the UK. Most of those spoken to believe that using the word ‘gay’ is using homophobic language. And they say that this can seriously affect the way that young people feel about themselves as they form their sexual identity.
Sadly Stonewalls research has shown that a number of young people (3/5 who identify as gay) are self-harming because they are made to feel bad about their sexuality. And some of those young people (1/5) try to take their own lives.
Stonewall believes everyone has a duty to challenge homophobic language when they hear it, even if it hasn’t been said to cause upset. The fact that your son is using homophobic language does not necessarily mean that he is homophobic. But it doesn’t make it more acceptable because it still promotes inequality and causes upset.
The argument for:
The other side of the debate is that this is just language evolving over time and the meaning of the word ‘gay’ has changed for your son’s generation. They say that the term ‘gay’, when said in this context, has nothing to do with sexuality and that there’s no intention for it to be homophobic. The word ‘cool’ has had two meanings since the 1950’s, one being the temperature of something and the other being something fashionable or desirable. The word ‘gay’, in the same way, also has two meanings that are not related at all.
This is not homophobia
Research has been done about how young people feel about saying things like ‘its so gay’ or ‘homework… so gay!’. And it seems that young people are very protective of the new meaning for the term ‘gay’. They argue that they are not homophobic at all. They say that the way it is used, who it’s said to and how it’s said is important.
So after hearing both sides of the argument is it right or wrong for your son to use the term ‘gay’ in this way? Young people and their parents don’t share the same history. Many of the parents’ generation will have witnessed gay people having to fight for their right to equality, so it’s understandable that the two generations feel so differently about this.
Both arguments are valid and should be considered. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about how this kind of language might affect someone, regardless of the meaning behind it.
It is clear that your son doesn’t feel that he’s using the term in a homophobic way. He is using it in a non-threatening way with his friends. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be pulling him up on it. Make sure that he thinks carefully about what he’s saying and how it could upset someone or be misunderstood. It may even upset him to think that something he said had hurt someone’s feelings or made them feel ashamed for who they are.
Perhaps you could show him these videos from Stonewall. They may make him think carefully about what he says and give him a different perspective to consider.
- Jak’s Story
- How it feels to be bullied for being gay – the words of young people in Wales
- Stonewall | #NoBystanders – Watch the film, join the movement and take a stand
If you would like to look further into this and read some relevant reports, guides and articles then take a look at the following links:
- School Report – The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017 – Stonewall
- Tackling Homophobic Language – Stonewall Education Guides
- Using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘crap’ is a form of bullying of gay people – Will Young, The Guardian
- Maybe ‘that’s so gay’ is actually ok for young people to say – Mark McCormack, The Conversation
- The Complexity of ‘That’s So Gay’ – Don’t call me homophobic – Psychology Today
If you would like further information on national or local support services, then you can contact us at FamilyPoint Cymru via phone 0300 222 57 57, text 07860 052 905, or IM/Chat. We are open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.
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