Words are a choice

Derogatory terms directed toward the LGBT community are still a predominant issue in 2019


Johanna Diener

Lyndsey and Justina McPherson's braid ceremony was performed on June 29, 2018

June 29th, 2018 was the hottest day of the summer. Although the air temperature was technically 103 degrees, the humidity made it feel like 120. On the outskirts of River Falls, Wisconsin, I was sitting on a white chair directly under the sun’s sweltering rays, gazing down the aisle as Lyndsey, my cousin, linked arms with her dad and stepdad as she headed towards the large oak tree to make a commitment that would last a lifetime. It was her wedding day. As she walked down the aisle all of the memories I had made with her over the years played through my mind: when she took me to an Ed Sheeran concert, when she taught me how to ice skate, or when she brought me along for her engagement photos. When she reached the oak tree, the bottom of Lyndsey’s white dress fell onto the grass. Beaming, my cousin grabbed Justina’s (her soon to be wife’s) hands. Justina had been a part of my family since I was in fifth grade, so I was extremely excited for their relationship to become “official.”

Regardless of the heat, it was a beautiful wedding filled with dancing, kissing, and crying. Sadly my cousin is not always surrounded by people as loving as the ones that were there for her on June 29th.  Numerous times my cousin has had hateful individuals refer to her as a “dyke” which has left a mark on her that can never be erased. Lyndsey isn’t alone. Derogatory terms like “faggot”, “dyke”, or even joking phrases like “that’s so gay” are offensive to members of the LGBT community. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” doesn’t apply under these circumstances. Words hurt. Society needs to recognize offensive terms like “faggot” and “dyke,” so these terms can be eradicated from common vocabulary. Addressing the number of LGBT people, the definition of specific derogatory terms, and the homophobic hate crimes that happen daily, makes it apparent that it isn’t “just words.”

The number of citizens in the United States that associate themselves with the LGBT community are on the rise. A Gallup Poll that was conducted in 2017 found that 4.5%, or 14.7 million Americans identify as LGBT, an increase from 3.5%, or 11 million, in 2012 . With the percentage of LGBT people rising, it is important to see how many people are being affected by the use of these slurs. Teens too make up the LGBT community. The US Department of Health and Human Services concludes that 8% of female and 3% of male high schoolers in 2018 identified as being LGBT. High schoolers see and hear belittling words directed at LGBT individuals all the time. Beside lockers, at desks, and in gyms, it is extremely common to hear phrases like “that’s gay” or even the words “faggot” and “dyke”. These words weren’t always the vehicles for hate that they are now; originally they had vastly different meanings.

To understand how hurtful these defamatory words can be, it is important to understand their current meaning and original purpose. GLSEN, a United States education organization working to create a more inclusive schooling system, lays out a specific lesson plan for teachers to combat the careless word choices of students.  The word “faggot” originated in the 1300s. Originally it meant “a bundle of sticks,” but in the 20th century the slang term began to imply that men (specifically gay men or men suspected of being gay) were too “effeminate” or too “flamboyant.” It’s easy to see how quickly society can alter the meaning of words for its own sexist and bigoted social agendas. Just like “faggot,” “dyke” was never intended to be degrading.

Initially “dike” (which later changed to “dyke”) was used when referring to ditches, trenches, piers, pools, and dams– homophobic culture changed “dyke’s” meaning. Now the word stereotypes lesbians, suggesting that they are “too masculine” and “not a proper woman”. My cousin and her wife are both beautiful women who should not be pushed into a box fabricated by a long line of individuals deciding how females should look and interact. Sadly, Lyndsey and Justina, among many others, have had to withstand many insolent words.

A staggering number of LGBT people report verbal abuse. By surveying individuals identifying as a part of the LGBT community over the phone, Harvard University discovered that 57% of LGBT individuals have experienced slurs while 53% have faced offensive comments about their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Often times discriminatory words come along with violent acts including spitting, punching, and kicking. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported that the FBI and Pew Research center concluded that the LGBT community are twice as likely to be targeted by hate verbally compared to African Americans and people who are Jewish. Such hate can be seen anywhere, including Minnesota.

Two women, who wished to be unidentified, had an anonymous letter sent to their St. Peter home in August of 2017. The typed letter referred to the women as “faggots,”  and demanded that the couple leave the community, forcing one of the women, who grew up in St. Peter, to feel “extremely unsafe in her own home.”  Anonymous hate mail addressed to gay couples does not stop in Minnesota; rather it is sent in many other areas of the United States. With a pride flag outside, John Gascot and his husband of St. Petersburg, Florida, received a similar anonymous letter in his mailbox, accusing him of living in a “gay house” and of “trolling the queers.” Although Gascot was not called a “faggot,” he still had to confront that his neighbors were not accepting of who he loves. It is 2019. The fact that words like “faggot” and “dyke” are still being thrown around with their new meaning is completely unacceptable.

LGBT people deserve as much respect as anyone else. Some may say “It’s just a word. They’re being too sensitive,” but that is untrue. Many just let derogatory terms fly off their tongue because it is being seen as “comical.” If an individual believes it is “just a word” they’re lucky because they have not had to see the pain and suffering tied to it. By saying “I’m just joking” someone is admitting that they could care less that homophobia is a prevalent issue that is affecting large portions of the world.  Even though people are being called a “faggot” or a “dyke,” the LGBT community has become accustomed to handling these situations.

To all the people who have called Lyndsey a “dyke,” she recognizes that “People are ignorant. I always remind myself that name calling comes from extreme ignorance and people are insecure about themselves.” My cousin’s ability to determine where the hate comes from reminds me why I love Lyndsey so much. Lyndsey and her wife are incredibly strong. I will never forget their hot wedding day filled with dancing, kissing, and crying, because in the end both of them got to marry the love of their life. Unfortunately every day cannot be as fantastic as June 29th, 2018 for Lyndsey and Justina. Together they both continue fighting off bigoted comments. Hopefully, in the future, Lyndsey and Justina will not have to hear hateful comments if society can remember one thingwords are a choice.