The other day, I stumbled across an article listing reasons why a boyfriend should be dumped. My jaw practically unhinged when I saw the author was urging people to dump a boyfriend whose friends were all "gays." Wait, what? Did I really just read someone encourage women to break up with someone because of a tolerant and open mind? Silly me, I was thinking those qualities were ones I should admire!
Don't get me wrong. The United States has come a long way in improving the extension of civil rights. The 13th Amendment in 1865 ended slavery. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racial segregation. The fight for equality is continuously waged, but a particularly brutal front in this fight does not always get the recognition it should.
Discrimination against members of the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer) Community occurs on a daily basis. Some instances of discrimination are physical and publicized, such as the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard. Other forms of discrimination are institutional, such as the denial of the right to engage in a same-sex marriage or the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military. Perhaps the most pervasive form of discrimination, and the most dangerous, is discriminatory rhetoric.
Discriminatory rhetoric occurs when someone, using their words, paints members of the GLBTQ community as unnatural or immoral. The most public of these kinds of slurs are often brought on by politicians and religious leaders. Examples might include Mike Huckabee comparing same-sex marriage to incest and drug use, Pat Robertson pinning natural disasters on overt displays of homosexuality, or Jerry Falwell blaming "the gays" for 9/11.
However, a good amount of this discrimination will never see the front page of a newspaper. The 2005 National School Climate Survey of the GLBTQ community in America's schools found that 75.4 percent of students reported suffering verbal abuse, 37.5 percent had been subjected to physical harassment, and 17.6 percent had been actually assaulted. Kids can be cruel, but teachers and parents only fan the flames. Take for example the case of Constance McMillan, who, after suing her school for banning her and her girlfriend from attending the prom, was finally invited to attendâ€¦ only to find that the school had thrown a separate prom for the rest of the students.
These are children we're talking about, and these are adults that are intentionally, knowingly inflicting pain on them. Is this what we have devolved into?
Unnatural, You Say?
It doesn't matter how it's packaged. It doesn't matter if the discrimination comes from the president of the student body or the President of the United States. Discriminating against someone because of who they are is inexcusable. It's not a choice; it's natural. Research suggests that over 1,500 different species outside of humans engage in homosexual behavior. In fact, Peter Boeckman of the Norweigan Natural History Museum, an academic advisor for the "Against Nature's Order?" exhibition at the University of Oslo, states, "No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist."
In other words, what we refer to as "alternative lifestyles," are actually a part of the bigger picture. We just shame people for participating in what seems natural to any other species.
The Power of Our Words
While some may trill the familiar adage of, "sticks and stones," words do have power. Benjamin Whorf, largely regarded as the father of linguistic determinism, studied the power of words for years, concluding that the words we use shape the way we view the world. In other words, the discriminatory rhetoric that has permeated our society is holding us back on the next big front in the fight for civil rights.
Think about that. The next time you hear someone call something undesirable, "gay," think about that. The next time you hear someone use a homophobic slur, think about that. The next time you hear someone making yet another absurd allegation about the morality or unnatural instincts of the GLBTQ community, think about that. You are powerful beyond your wildest dreams, because your language can help to shape the world we live in tomorrow. Will you use this power to help or hinder progress?