As powerful as today’s National Day of Silence has the potential to be, to affect real change we need to use the other 364 day to speak up against name-calling, bullying, and harassment not just in schools, but everywhere.
The National Day of Silence is an event led by the U.S.-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. It’s intent is to get students to take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered name-calling, bullying, and harassment.
It’s not an issue that’s restricted to just the LGBT community. Schools are rife with various forms of bullying. Kids are too geeky, too nerdy, too fat, too skinny, too slutty, too prudish… All the name calling is done in order to ensure that you’re not the lowest one on the social totem pole. After all, you can feel some superiority as long as there’s someone lower than you.
It’s sad, isn’t it? Whether you’re 16 or 86, you probably can remember a time when you were either targetting someone or a target yourself. Being cool and being part of the In Crowd is more important than being compassionate at that age. Rare is — and was — the person who had the stones to stand up for what’s right. Even if we didn’t actively participate, our passive response simply served as a tacit approval of the comment. And while this behaviour is not endemic to this generation, it seems to be at once more vicious and more pervasive than when my generation was younger.
I’m not going to lie and put myself on a pedestal that I don’t deserve. We made gay jokes and we made off-colour comments. I remember being in a hockey dressing room when I was 10 or 11 and the boys were firing off various AIDS jokes. At the time, I was very naïve, the disease was new and mysterious, and I laughed along with the crowd without understanding what they were talking about. To a certain extent – and this is still not an excuse – I think we were all immature in the ways of the world.
Our exposure to gay people, at the time, was non-existent (or, so we thought. Obviously there were gay people at our school), which matched our level of understanding. However, and I can’t speak for my friends at the time, I never had any issue with gay people. (A side note: I knew some Neanderthals who would say, “If a gay guy came on to me, I’d hit him.” It’s a mentality I never understood. I’ve been hit on by gay males and I take it as a complement. At least someone’s finding me attractive, right [and for some of those knuckle-draggers, they really should be happy that anyone’s on that list]? Despite what the religious right thinks, gay is not catching. A guy hitting on me isn’t going to force me into his bed. You’re either gay or you’re not.)
Our humour crossed all demographics – our own, most viciously. Call it equal opportunity offending if you want, but we chose to not take ourselves, or anyone else, too seriously. Even now, I have a hard time taking offense to a joke meant in good fun. But I understand that there are those who didn’t – and continue not to – share that opinion.
Now, this isn’t a justification of our behaviour – or that the humour wasn’t hurtful to some. But I can’t, for the life of me, ever remember taunting someone about their sexuality, calling them gay, or shunning someone because of whom they dated. That’s not the case now. What’s seems more insidious now is that this type of bullying is being perpetrated by kids for whom alternative lifestyles and cultural differences is the norm. And what’s worse is that they can’t see how the comments can be hurtful, even when it’s pointed out.
To protect the not-so-innocent, I’ll leave names out in illustrating the story. But let’s just call this person Someone Who Should Know Better. SWSKB has family members who are gay, has grown up with gay people a constant presence in their life, and, most importantly, has heard the harrowing stories of gay people who have had to flee their homelands due to sexual persecution – including threats to their lives. On social networking sites, the back-and-forth often degenerates into:
- “That’s/Ur so gay,”
- “Check out the fag”
- “No homo!”
But what’s concerning is that this type of language is the norm. Today’s youth, in large part, really don’t see that calling someone a fag is no different than using the N-word. While they would never use a racist epithet, they have no problem using one based on sexuality. And at the base of it all is this great fear to be labelled homosexual. They can’t make a simple comment of appreciation for each other without adding the “no homo” comment — perish the thought someone may think they’re gay.
That’s why projects like ThinkB4YouSpeak.com and the Day of Silence remain so important in our communities. And, even more importantly, we need to speak up when we encounter this type of language – not just on the awareness days, but every single day of the year.
We don’t need to be so politically correct as to not be able to laugh at our similarities, differences, and the human condition as a whole. But there’s a difference between joking and targetting. I know some will not agree, but there is a fine line between humour and hurt.