If we have learned anything from history, it is that words have power. The words of Martin Luther King stirred a nation into action. The words of Jesus Christ (whether you believe in his divinity or not) sometimes moves people to live better lives. The words of Karl Marx have forever changed the way we look at class structure. The words of Adam Smith, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and the founders of this country gave rise to the entity that we now know of as the Libertarian Party.
Adolf Hitler’s words led to the extermination of almost six million people. Westboro Baptist Church’s words incite hatred and violence a non-criminal group of people.
Words are the expression of our minds — they are external representations of the chemical processes of our brains. They are the speakers for our ideas. Often, in many ways we do not recognize, our language reflects thoughts that we may not consciously be aware of. In that way, sometimes the words we use can shape what we think and how we act about things, also. Sometimes, even if we consciously say “I don’t think this” the words that we choose to use can reflect the opposite, even if we don’t always mean to convey that.
This process effects everyone: men, women, people of color, etc. We have ideas about these groups of people embedded into our very common language, and that language effects how we and even members of that group, see them. Today, we reflect on how our words affect those of the LGBT community (I’m sorry if I didn’t get all the letters in there — but I mean those who do not fit into “standard”* notions of sexuality or gender). Today is the National Day of Silence, in which we pause to commemorate how our language affects those people who we marginalize in our culture.
Silence, however, has never suited me, so I take up my (metaphorical) pen and I write. As I was clicking around the interwebs, I found a fantastic video with the ever-awesome Wanda Sykes who took part in a TV ad series by Think B4 You Speak.
I love this TV spot, and I think it hits on a direct issue that is individualistic and thus engaging to an audience, but I would like to take it a step further.
When we make the word gay synonymous with being bad, stupid, dumb we, as a society, create a culture which deprives a class of people of their liberty. That is, their liberty of lifestyle and association without fear of becoming outcast.
Making the word gay synonymous with stupid or bad makes gay people synonymous with the concepts of stupid or bad. Homosexuality does not hurt anyone, so there is no real secular reason to draw this conclusion. Even if you believe by your religion that homosexuality is immoral or harmful to those who practice it, that still does not necessitate that they be deprived of rights in the society in which they live. You can try and reason with them, convince them to change their ways (however losing of an argument that may be), but to put them as social outcasts is in direct violation of their natural right to Liberty.
To those who would say that being a social outcast does not hamper liberty, I suggest you talk to the Jews pre-holocaust, or the untouchables, or African Americans pre-Civil Rights Movement (or even post-, according to some). We have seen social oppression yield such consequences of locking a class of people into a socio-economic status and severely limiting what they can do with their lives. This is the essence of liberty-deprivation.
It is a violation of the most dangerous kind: one that we do to each other. The Constitution does not protect our society from making social outcasts. There are only those who fight against it, and fight it we must, for it we don’t change our language, then we will continue to relegate a non-violent group of people to the sidelines, depriving them of that which we in America say we hold sacred: life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. How can we say we guard that when we do this to ourselves?
We can’t. We don’t.
You don’t have to be gay to recognize that doing this to “non-standard” classes of people violates their rights. You don’t have to be the person whose rights are trampled on in order to care about it happening to others. Stop saying gay people are stupid are bad, and ask others to do the same, and you will be making a huge difference.
~V.A. Luttrell (Who has always loved rainbows)
Edit and some notes: My original post had “LGB” instead of “LGBT” Awesome commenter Briana spotted my oversight, and I apologize for it. I am unfortunately woefully ignorant on acronyms and appropriate abbreviations.
*Awesome Commenter Briana also noted that my use of “standard” could be potentially confusing, so I will clarify here: I use standard in quotation marks to denote basically that what we consider “normal” is largely societally constructed and thus those who don’t conform to that standard are unjustly ostracized. I mean to say that that construction of gender, sexuality, etc. are unfruitful, unproductive, and essentially incorrect and as such we should deconstruct it. Thus, I use the word standard to show that people think this way, but I put it in quotation marks to denote that it’s not quite factual. I am open to suggestions on how to better phrase this in the future.