Whereas society generally now agrees that racial slurs are unacceptable, there is less condemnation of homophobic insults. A group of students from Duke University in the USA have prepared a report on how language can be used to hurt and humiliate women and LGBT people. The emphasis of the You Don’t Say campaign is to highlight and critique sexist and anti-LGBT words.
The campaign’s slogans include:
- “I don’t say ‘gay’ because the words ‘gay’ and ‘stupid’ are not interchangeable.”
- “I don’t say ‘man up’ because being tough doesn’t make me less of a woman.”
- “I don’t say ‘tranny’ because it’s insulting to transgender and gender queer communities and people who don’t fit traditional labels.”
- “I don’t say ‘don’t be a pussy’ because I don’t believe that any gender is inferior.’
You Don’t Say aims to open up a debate about how language relates to power relations in society. In many contexts such epithets as “faggot”, “gay” and “tranny” are not just harmless expressions – they are used as weapons to oppress people who are vulnerable, lack a voice of their own and who belong to marginalised minority groups.
The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” would appear to be untrue given the negative experiences of millions of LGBT people around the globe. The Duke University students behind the You Don’t Say initiative believe that society’s failure to act against homophobic and misogynistic language might put LGBTs and women in danger of not only verbal abuse but physical violence.
‘You Don’t Say is not an effort to diminish the freedom of speech that we are born with,’ says the campaign’s Facebook page. ‘Instead we seek to educate individuals on why certain words and phrases, particularly those related to the LGBTQ community and gender identities, diminish and invalidate many individuals.’