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Challenging the use of homophobic language in schools: Mumsnet and Stonewall campaign

(270 Posts)
RebeccaMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 18-Nov-13 10:02:09

"That's so gay." Um, actually it probably isn't.

It's also something most of us don't want to hear, and it's absolutely something young people shouldn't have to hear in the classroom.
That's why, for Anti-Bullying Week this year, we've teamed up with Stonewall on Gay. Let?s Get Over It, a campaign to provide guidance to schools, parents and young people, and to address the misuse of the word 'gay'.

Mumsnetters talked about the need for the campaign here, and you can get involved in it here.

Do share on Twitter #GetOverIt, Facebook and Google+ - the more people know about the campaign, the more we can challenge unacceptable language and change the culture of our schools. And do feel free to discuss it here too.

Tomorrow, Will Young will be coming into MNHQ for a webchat about the campaign at 12pm - watch active for the webchat thread which will be up later and post your questions to him there.

YouAreMyFavouriteWasteOfTime Mon 18-Nov-13 14:11:59

Great idea for a campaign. I will watch this thread with interest.

Fluffytent Mon 18-Nov-13 14:15:38

Working in education, I completely agree about stamping out bullying in all its forms.

However I think the problems may be exacerbated by
- parents passing on their prejudices
- some children will simply parrot words from their peers without having any agenda
- what about kids called fat, ginger, speccy etc? No form of bullying should be acceptable.
- is it the word itself thats the problem or what's really being said? Does it change life for a child being bullied if just the word is tackled?

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Mon 18-Nov-13 14:19:59

The thing with fat, speccy and ginger is that they would generally be used towards someone who is ginger or wears glasses. Whereas gay is used to describe anyone or any situation in a negative way.

I speak as a ginger person and hope that particular prejudice is next on the list. ��

Fully support this campaign and it's about time it was tackled head on in schools.

When I was working in a school recently as a TA I did challenge a group of boys going round rather randomly flinging around the word "gay" in the playground - maybe "He's gay Miss" as an example.
I said something along the lines of that's something people can tell you about themselves not something you can just say about someone else.
Also pretty much said "some of my best friends are gay"
Don't know if I got it right, but I did try - and the children did seem to take it on board quite well if I remember rightly. I think talking about it quite informally in the playground seemed quite effective.

purpleroses Mon 18-Nov-13 14:29:03

I think it's on a par with "don't be such a girl" used as an insult really.

It's a good thing to try to stop children mis-using it, but schools need to be careful not to overreact. My daughter (10) came home telling me about how a boy in her class had been sent to the head's office lately for saying "that's so gay". It's not homophobic in the real sense of causing distress and discrimination, just a bit rude and probably said out of ignorance in the case of young children. My daughter and her schoolmates all think it's some dreadful thing to mention the word gay now, which I don't think will help anyone.

MrsSquirrel Mon 18-Nov-13 14:29:30

Yes of course, some children will simply parrot words from their peers without having any agenda. It's still the schools' job to educate the children.

When my dd was in primary, she was the victim of homophobic bullying because I am gay. I am certain that one of the boys involved had no idea what he was saying, but the school (correctly) followed its bullying policy. I hope he and the other children involved all learned something from the experience.

hermioneweasley Mon 18-Nov-13 14:31:19

Purple roses, if the saying was "don't be black" would you think it's harmless.

It ingrains gay=bad at a very early age

I am delighted to see MN supporting this campaign

MrsSquirrel Mon 18-Nov-13 14:32:51

But purpleroses, that kind of language did cause distress to my dd in primary school. I was glad that the school took it seriously. All children should be able feel safe at school.

Devora Mon 18-Nov-13 14:34:38

Accepting your point that all offensive language needs to be managed appropriately, including age-appropriately, purpleroses, but using 'gay' as an insult DOES cause distress and discrimination. I am gay with two children in primary school, and I can promise you that hearing their family reality used as a catch-all term for anything naff or inferior or despised does do them real damage.

The point is that it's not just the intent behind the word that causes harm, it is using the word in a way that perpetuates homophobia. That is why it shoud always be picked up on, so that children who use the word 'innocently' learn why it shouldn't be used in that way.

Devora Mon 18-Nov-13 14:35:19

Congratulations to MN and Stonewall for mounting this campaign. I'm thrilled.

Devora Mon 18-Nov-13 14:37:06

I would also challenge (appropriately!) children using 'girl' as an insult, but they're not actually on a par. Girls in primary school are surrounded by other girls who help to validate and affirm their identity. Whereas gay children - or children of gay parents - are often the only ones they know. That isolation, combined with casual daily reminders that they are considered inferior or laughable or disguating, causes real damage to a growing child's psyche.

SirChenjin Mon 18-Nov-13 14:37:11

It's a great idea, I fully support it. However, I'm not sure that a 'campaign' in isolation will have much success - I seem to be supporting so many campaigns at the moment that I feel slightly campaigned out - and so would like to see Stonewall working with education departments across the UK (although maybe you're already doing this?) to build appropriate use of language into the curriculum as well as highlighting the issue through a campaign.

Wigeon Mon 18-Nov-13 14:43:51

This is a good thing for Stonewall to be challenging. Are they doing anything to challenge adults' use of the word 'gay' as an insult? In the last week, I have overheard someone on the trips in describe a policy proposal (!) as 'so gay' (he clearly meant weak, pathetic etc) and on Facebook saw someone comment on someone's selfie photo with just the word 'gay' (again, it was clearly not meant as a compliment).

I am still wondering what, if anything, I should have said to my fellow train passenger...any ideas for a pithy thing you could say to a stranger in those circumstances?!

Contrarian78 Mon 18-Nov-13 14:44:49

".....to provide guidance to schools, parents and young people, and to address the misuse of the word 'gay'."

Gay, even when I was a kid, meant something totally different. Language constantly evolves (for better and worse). This isn't really cricket. Although I wouldn't personally describe something rubbish as "gay" - though I see many things which the "Gay Community" ally themselves to as being utterly rubbish (these kids might be onto something)

I think it's a bit rich to argue against the use of a word in a particular context when that word was itself (arguably) originally misappropriated.

FWIW (and I know this sort of makes me a hypocrite) I really don't like the use of the word "Faggot" to describe homosexuals. For some reason, that always seems to be really rather hateful - and I've pulled people for it before.

Wigeon Mon 18-Nov-13 14:44:52

train not trips

CatherinaJTV Mon 18-Nov-13 14:46:45
Feminine Mon 18-Nov-13 14:47:51

I'm concerned.

When kids use it now, its nothing to do with being gay.

I doubt it will go away in schools TBH.

Younger children are using it now with even less understanding of the original usage.

My eldest's son school have banned it...it is still being used!

Wigeon Mon 18-Nov-13 14:48:53

Contrarian: the point is that language HAS evolved, and 'gay' now means 'homosexual', not the old meaning of 'fun', and if people are using a term for 'homosexual' as a way of describing something negatively (eg 'that's soooo gay'), then that is clearly an insult to people who are gay. And pretty unpleasant even if you personally aren't gay, but think that gay people shouldn't be insulted. Does that help explain why this campaign exists?

purpleroses Mon 18-Nov-13 14:52:40

MrsSquirrel - but your DD was being bullied by people who were using the word gay correctly (to say that you were gay) and bullying her because of that. That is homophobic bullying, and it is good that the school took it seriously - so they should.

But using the word gay incorrectly to mean that something is a bit naff is misusing the word - possibly by children who've not even heard it used in any other context, and not intended to upset gay people at all.

Feminine Mon 18-Nov-13 14:53:42

Wigeon kids who use it are not calling someone a homosexual though. They use in a throw away style.

It is used in a totally different way.

Little ones are using it. They have no understanding.

hareinthemoon Mon 18-Nov-13 14:59:11

I support the campaign, especially for the reasons Devora states. However I am one step on from this. My son is the only openly gay student in his school and when he is called "gay" - well - the other children just say "well it's true". And given the other words that could be used (and were used by previous generations, before gay was appropriated) - I like "gay". But concentrating on the word doesn't address how or why it's said, and given that he is, indeed, gay - what then? The school have worked on this by talking about "toxic words" (including the use of "ginger", Lumpy) - used in a derogatory way. But I'm not sure how successful it was. Dealing with how words are used rather than just the words themselves is a hugely difficult problem.

MrsSquirrel Mon 18-Nov-13 15:06:36

I understand what you mean by misuse purpleroses but using the word gay in a way that means gay=bad is upsetting, whatever the speaker intends.

I would hope that in the earlier example you gave, the headteacher explained to the boy why it is wrong to use that kind of language and that the boy learned something from the experience.

intitgrand Mon 18-Nov-13 15:09:34

According to the Oxford English dictionary

adjective (gayer, gayest)
1(of a person, especially a man) homosexual.
•relating to or used by homosexuals:
eg a gay bar

2 dated light-hearted and carefree:
Nan had a gay disposition and a very pretty face

3 brightly coloured; showy:
'a gay profusion of purple and pink sweet peas'

4 informal, offensive foolish, stupid, or unimpressive:
'he thinks the obsession with celebrity is totally gay'

So there you are 4 meanings!

cornflakegirl Mon 18-Nov-13 15:11:03

Completely support this campaign. I agree that it's only one facet, and needs to be backed up with zero tolerance on bullying in general, and good teaching on same-sex relationships and all the different types of families, but words matter. I will ask our school about their stance on homophobic language.

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