How Language Bullies, But When It Might Be OK To Say “That’s So Gay”

“Say Something” seems to be Australia’s equivalent of the “It Gets Better” Project, a youtube campaign that was started Dan Savage, a Seattle columnist, after the rash of gay teen suicides last year.  “Say Something” has been set up as part of the 2011 Sydney Mardi Gras, one of the largest gay events anywhere in the world.

Matthew Mitcham, an out, gold medal diving champion in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has created his video, short though it is, for the Say Something project.  In it he advocates for eliminating the use of the phrase “It’s so gay” in a negative way.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this phrase used, except maybe on TV.  I’m not much around the age group, teens or younger, that probably uses this phrase.  However, I know I wouldn’t like it if I were a gay kid in middle or high school and had to hear it all the time.  Frankly, there are far worse words as derogatory syn0nyms for gay people, when they are trying to demean either gay people or even others that are not gay.

For the most part, kids use these stronger perjoratives because they got them from hearing adults say them.  When I was a kid, the “n”-word was the harshest, but  most often used, word that we called each other on the playground.  Strange though it sounds, we could use that word without admonishment, but knew better than to use “real” swear words, which today are commonplace in movies and the music on the radio.  There’s nothing surprising thses days about hearing them in so many rap and hip-hop songs, where they sort of get bleeped out.  But when I hear them come in songs like Enrique Iglesias’ latest hit, I get uncomfortable.

We used the “n”-word, not because we had ever met even one Black person, but because we heard the word at home.  “That’s so gay” seems to be somewhat like that.  The kids that use the phrase aren’t directly trying to be offensive to gay people because they are just saying something like “That’s so lame,” which was used not so long ago, and I expect, still is used by some kids.

And speaking of “lame”, what if the phrase being used were “That’s so disabled” or “That’s so physically challenged”?  Most people probably would find that more offensive than “That’s so gay.”  However, when”That’s retarded” was so popular, there weren’t too many negative ripples.

When it comes to being politically correct (though really I think it has more to do with civility than politics), it’s hard to keep up.  I seem to remember Lyndon Johnson using nigras (which doesn’t sound that different from the “n” word), and he was the President who signed the major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s.  Colored People was once OK; there’s still the NAACP.  Then there’s still the question of African-American (or Afro-American) or Black.

There’s a similar problem with people and newspapers using the term homosexual.  In fact, it has a very specific, somewhat clinical or academic meaning, but most of the time when used outside of certain fields of study, homosexual come with a negative connotation for labeling people, in a way that “colored” was once used by whites, when they knew that there was a more appropriate word.

Just like many use homosexual as a way of emphasizing the “sexual” aspect, as if that the only quality that characterizes us, they also employ the word to hit other people’s buttons that its the “same” sex.  And, “you know, doing with the same sex, well, that’s something so bad, because, you know, the preacher said it in church, and it’s in the Bible, you know.”

So it’s not are far stretch to the same negativity inherent in “That’s so gay.”  The negative connotation from homosexual is carried over to the word “gay.”

It’s really not much different than expressions that have applied to other groups.  I grew up with people using the expression of “jewing someone down,” not having any idea that it came from the negative stereotype of Jewish people.  I’m sure there are kids out there who, when comparing the sizes of dips on their ice cream cones, are screaming, “I got gypped (or jipped),” having no idea that the word came from negative stereotype of gypsies cheating or robbing people.

There are two sides to these pejoratives.  On the one hand, they make the language colorful and precise.  With the internet and other forms of technology, the English language is already being “dummied down” with all its LOLs and other shortcuts.   (Oops, can I say “dummied down”?)  On the other hand, words can hurt, and we know it.  People, especially adults, who use these words to belittle others know what they are doing. 

Newspapers, politicians, and preachers who use the word homosexual know that gay people don’t like to be called that, but they do it anyway.  In reality, it’s just a subtle way to bully.  Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?  Doesn’t that mean civility and respect?

It all comes back to civility, doesn’t it?

If people want to use the line “That’s so gay,” they should really use it with the meaning “That’s so creative” because that’s a positive stereotype of gay people.  Think of all creativity put out by hair stylists (let’s go with those straight-thinking stereotypes), artists, playwrights, and composers.  Let’s don’t forget to mention Michalangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander the Great or some current creative gay people like Elton John, Ricky Martin, or Ellen Degeneres.

So maybe when (or if) you read something on here that makes you think a bit, you’ll say, “That’s so gay.”  But, hey, you gotta put the right tone in your voice or it won’t work.

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“Getting a Top Secret Security Clearance”–Segueing into “Stories from the Frontline”–SLDN’s New Push To Get DADT Repealed

How much money the Air Force had spent on my training by the time I got my Top Secret Security Clearance had to have been a large sum.  After all, there had been 6 weeks of basic training, almost 9 months of full-time language instruction, and several months of technical training.  Even more training was yet to come after I received the clearance, before I went on to doing “real work.”

The military started the clearance process in San Antonio while I was still in basic training after they had decided what field I was going into.  I had to fill out a form that asked for every place I had ever lived, names of people who could verify that, and a lot of other details that I was hard-pressed to remember.  Family members and other acquaintances back home told me later that “some government guy” had been out to check on me, and they had had to give the names of other people who knew me.  I’d finished college when I went into the A.F. and had summer jobs, but I hadn’t even gotten a traffic ticket yet; my rural existence and fairly controlled upbringing hadn’t given me many opportunities to stray from the straight and narrow.

More than a year after the process started, I was called to personnel to finalize the process and be given my clearance.  As I remember it now, it felt a bit like an interrogation, but, in reality, it probably wasn’t much more than a clerk–I say “clerk”–but perhaps on second thought, it was an officer–asking a number of questions and checking them off on a form.   One of the questions was about “homosexuality”.   I don’t remember if it was the direct question, “Are you a homosexual?” or something a bit different.  The fact is, though certainly thoughts along those lines had been in my head, my life experiences up to that point weren’t broad enough to answer that question any other way than with a “no”.

I learned later that the military’s position then was when it came to military intelligence a “homosexual” was a liability, because if that person were captured by the enemy and the enemy found out he was a “homosexual”, they could use that as a way of getting whatever secret information out of him.  That’s pretty laughable in and of itself, because most gay military (or any other) men or women, especially back then, had already had a lot of experience at keeping secrets.  How were they going to find out anyway?  Drag some hot guy out in front of him and see how he reacted?  I mean if they were dragging out hot guys to get gay guys to spill the beans, couldn’t they do the same for straight guys by using hot women?   (These days they always want to drag out the scary shower story, but I’ll get into that another time.)

So that was before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”” and I can say, “They asked.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” really is a dinosaur and needs to be repealed.  I’m not a big activist, but I want to help and get others to be aware of what’s happening.  Service Members Legal Defense Network is pushing to get the President to honor his word and trying to get Congress busy and repeal DADT this year.  Read the following post from their website.  I urge you to act and contact your representatives and senators.  You can find their phone numbers here.

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Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign launched to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law.  We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.  The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk.  It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.  By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes!  We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.


April 26, 2010

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

If you end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), I’d re-enlist the day you sign repeal into law.

For thirteen years, I served in the United States Air Force where I attained the rank of major before I was discharged under DADT.

As the Senate Armed Services Committee considers including repeal in the Defense Authorization bill, we’re very close — just two or three votes — to passing repeal in committee. I ask for you to voice your support to put us over the top.

I come from a family with a rich legacy of military service.  My father is a West Point graduate who taught chemistry at the Air Force Academy, flew helicopters in Vietnam, and ultimately retired as a senior officer from the Air Force.  One of my uncles retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant from the Marine Corps, with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Another uncle served in the Army in Korea.

Growing up, I didn’t really know what civilians did, I just knew I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a military officer.

I joined Air Force ROTC in 1988 and was awarded a scholarship.  I earned my jump wings in 1991.  In 1992, I graduated from ROTC in the top 10% of all graduates nationwide.  In 1993, I went on active duty, just as DADT was becoming a law.

Stationed in Oklahoma, I was named officer of the year for my unit of nearly 1,000 people.  Later, I was one of six officers selected from the entire Air force to attend Professional Military Education at Quantico, Virginia.

During my career, I deployed to the Middle East four times.  In my last deployment, I led a team of nearly 200 men and women to operate and maintain the systems used to control the air space over Iraq.  We came under daily mortar attacks, one of which struck one of my Airmen and also caused significant damage to our equipment.  Towards the end of this deployment to Iraq, I was named one of the top officers in my career field for the entire Air Force.

In the stress of a war zone, the Air Force authorized us to use our work email accounts for “personal or morale purposes” because private email accounts were blocked for security.

Shortly after I left Iraq — during a routine search of my computer files — someone found that my “morale” was supported by the person I loved — a man.

The email — our modern day letter home — was forwarded to my commander.

I was relieved of my duties, my security clearance was suspended and part of my pay was terminated.

In my discharge proceeding, several of my former troops wrote character reference letters for me, including one of my squadron commanders. Their letters expressed their respect for me as an officer, their hope to have me back on the job and their shock at how the Air Force was treating me.

Approximately a year after I was relieved of my duties, my Wing Commander recommended I be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, even though the Air Force was actively pursuing my discharge.

But instead, after 16 months, I was given a police escort off the base as if I were a common criminal or a threat to national security.  The severance pay I received was half of what it would have been had I been separated for any other reason.

Despite this treatment, my greatest desire is still to return to active duty as an officer and leader in the United States Air Force, protecting the freedoms of a nation that I love; freedoms that I myself was not allowed to enjoy while serving in the military.

Mr. President, I want to serve.  Please fulfill your promise to repeal DADT and give me that chance.

Thank you,

Major Mike Almy

United States Air Force

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Houston’s Mayoral Inauguration Day Brings Along Prayer and Protestors

Annise Parker, Houston's newly inaugarated mayor

Downtown Houston’s Wortham Center was the site for the public inauguration ceremonies of Mayor Annise Parker as well as city council members and other newly-elected officials on Monday, January 4th.  One of the Houston Chronicle’s political writers blogged the event.   Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and the largest with an openly gay mayor.   Mayor Parker was the winner of a December 12th run-off election.  (Watch the new mayor’s inaugural speech here.)

A big surprise for me is that giving the prayer for the inauguration was Joel Osteen of Houston’s mega Lakewood Church, which is now housed in the building that was the previous arena for the Houston Rockets of the NBA (the Summit, later called Compaq Center).  I put this in almost the same category as Rick Warren giving the convocation at President Obama’s inauguration just a year ago.  It was only a couple of months ago when Osteen appeared on The View and said, “. . . homosexuality is not God’s best.”   If Osteen doesn’t think Annise Parker is one of God’s best, why did he consent to give the prayer at her inauguration?   Also why was he picked to speak by those doing the planning?

Osteen has a big draw in Houston, and I know some gay people that go to Lakewood.  I also know gay Catholics and gay Mormons.  I don’t know why gay people would want to belong to a church whose leader doesn’t think they are God’s best.  I also don’t know why gay people want to belong to any church that keeps hammering them down.

Speaking of hammering, some of the Phelps clan from Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church are in town to protest Annise Parker’s inauguration.  However, the Phelpses aren’t one-stop shoppers when it comes to hating;  according to their website (the name of which is such a pejorative that I would not deign to give them the satisfaction of writing it), they are making a 2-day trip of it  in order to picket a wide spectrum of venues, which include among others, the Co-cathedral downtown, the Holocaust Museum, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish school, and even Osteen’s own Lakewood Church.

Watch part of the ceremonies at the Wortham Theater:

(Click on Home for other posts on Annise Parker’s election.)

It’s 2:15 AM, But You Should Read This Book

Boswell book(Yes, it’s 2:15 AM, and luckily, tomorrow starts my vacation, and I will only have to wake up to take Annie out to do her business, and then I can crash again if I want. But someone posted a comment to one of my old posts, and responding to took enough time and effort that I decided to add a bit and use it as its own post.)

Beliefs. When it comes to beliefs, we have to make some distinctions.

If I put a pan of water on the stove, add some salt, turn on the burner, and wait until the water starts to boil at 212 degrees fahrenheit, I believe that if I dump the linguini into the water, it will be cooked a little more than al dente in about 8 minutes. On the other hand, maybe I’m cutting the grass, and I spy a four-leaf clover at the edge of the sidewalk, and say to myself, “Hey, I believe I’m in for a bit of good luck. Then, if some positive happens, I can attribute it to finding the four-leaf clover; however, if nothing significant takes place, I can just forget about it, and say, “Oh, well,” and wait until another “sign” like another four-leaf clover comes along.

That’s my take on beliefs, and if I haven’t drawn a clear enough picture for you, you’re not ready for Philosophy 101.

So that’s what applies in my comment below. (If my transition is weak, now it’s 2:30 AM.)

I always get tickled when religious people want to come back and say to me, “You’re angry.” Obviously, you haven’t read much else here on the blog.

You say you’ve made sacrifices. Most people in their lives have made sacrifices, but there is a difference between rights as a citizen of this country and whatever personal sacrifices people make to have the life they want. Just because some people have certain personal religious beliefs should not mean that others in this country should be prevented from having the same rights as everyone else. You as a married person have a whole slew of rights granted to you by the government besides the most obvious–marriage itself, but also the many spousal benefits that go along with it, not to mention being able to be open about who you are in the military, or even more simply to give blood.

When you start to add god into the picture, I say, “Whose god?” There are many denominations that have no problem accepting gay marriage and full equality across the board. We don’t have a theocratic government system in the U.S. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have governmental laws based on Islam, and whatever side of the political fence you sit on in this country, I have heard few people advocating they would like a government like that in this country.

You say: “I don’t think gay people are less than others, I never said that, so I don’t know where you got that. I think that gay people choose to believe that God is okay with their choice and I believe that they are mistaken.”

I “get that” because you chose to comment to my post and indicate that you are against gay marriage. What is inherent in what you say is that you think your beliefs are the correct beliefs and based on those beliefs, gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married in this country. You say “they are mistaken” and that indicates that they cannot have what you have–marriage–which indicates you do think gay people are less.

This is really no different than in theocratic countries where women are treated as “less”. Based on those laws, the wife has to walk behind the husband, cover her head and most of her body, and in some countries not be able to drive a car. Oh, but sure, he doesn’t think she’s “less” than he is, does he?

One thing that always gets me and every other gay person I know is that when people tell them being gay is a choice. I just don’t buy that you have any gay people whom you are really close to; otherwise, you just would not say or even think that.

Did you make a choice NOT to be gay? Chew on that a moment, and you have to realize that gay people don’t make a choice NOT to be straight. Are you left-handed or right-handed? Did you make a choice about that? Back in the good ol’ days, especially in parochial schools, left-handed kids got their hands whacked with a ruler or even had their left hands tied behind their backs to force them to use their right hands because being left-handed was thought to be wrong by some people. I guess in your way of thinking being left-handed wasn’t in god’s plan.

There’s no fork in the road of life where people choose to be left-handed or right-handed. Likewise, there’s no fork in the road where people choose to be gay, straight, or even something in the middle. Like being left-handed or right-handed, it just how we are wired.

The problem is that some religions and some people want to attach some kind of moral significance to that wiring.

Where there is a choice, however, is in what people choose to believe. As part of their beliefs, the Aztecs sacrificed other human beings; the people of Salem believed that some of the local women were witches and burned them to death; some people from Latin countries believe that if a pregnant woman looks at a full moon, the baby will have a mark on its face; some Hindus believe that cows are sacred; and the Pope of the medieval church believed that the earth was flat, and, thus, Galileo was a heretic and driven out of the church.

Through the ages, beliefs have changed. People learn, people grow, people use logic and knowledge. (Others, however, keep on with the same ol’ superstitions and fairy tales.)

But just what is it with christians and homosexuality anyway? The bible really doesn’t say that much about it, and the lines there are come from way back in the part where there are all sorts of weird old Jewish rules, like not letting dwarfs or invalids anywhere near the altar and not touching the skin of a pig. There’s a bunch of stuff like that back in Leviticus, but nobody, even those people who say they take every word of the bible literally adhere to any of that, but somehow they pull out homosexuality as being just about the worst thing anybody could be.

Never mind that it’s not on the top ten list of biblical no-no’s. I mean shouldn’t adultery be written into U.S. law? I’m pretty sure it’s there on that big ol’ tablet that Moses came down the mountain with. But I didn’t see any christians advocating for any laws against adultery when Governor Sanford was/is having his fling with his Argentine “soul mate” or after Senator Vitter got caught cheating on his wife with prostitutes. Why aren’t all the christians up in arms about that? (Remember that ol’ song “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”?)

Why did the Aztecs believe they should sacrifice other humans? Why did the people of Salem believe some of the local women were witches and burn them to death? Why did people believe the world was flat?

(But based on your thinking, not those sacrificed by the Aztecs, the women put to death in Salem, nor even Galileo were “less”, because, of course, the Aztecs, the people of Salem, and the medieval church were all just following the laws based on their beliefs.)

And I think this should be a question for you. WHY do you believe what you believe. (I heard that ol’ Sunday School song “Cuz the Bible Tells Me So” many times, but that just doesn’t cook the linguini any more than the four-leaf clover cooks it.)

In the end, you can believe whatever you believe. If you want to believe a rock is a hairbrush, you can believe that, especially if some church elder has convinced you that a rock is a hairbrush. And would you dare question that with a “Why?”.

In the same way that some parents’ religious beliefs should not prevent their child with cancer from being treated, your own and others’ religious beliefs should not prevent gay people from marrying the person whom they love.

Finally, you need to read this book: “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” by John Boswell.

And What Will the Conservative Republicans Say Now about Sancti-MOAN-ious Sanford’s Revelations and the Sanctity of Marriage? Come’on Now, We’re All Waiting with Bated Breath

Mr. A-List (that’s A for Adultery), Republican Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina was forthcoming with even more revelations about his relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, the Argentinian woman with whom he has been having an affair. It seems, though, that his current mistress is not the only woman he has been involved with during his marriage to his wife, Jenny. “Oh, what a tangled web . . .” If you’re into the details the South Carolinian newspaper, The State has the most.

Actually, I’m not that interested in what Sanford or other straight people do in bed; it’s just that when so many of them give out this “holier than thou” attitude, laying it on thick about the sanctity of marriage and how gay marriage and homosexuality are just about the worst thing that anyone could be part of, you want to sit there and say, “Hey, Sluggo, maybe you might want to re-think your position on love and who can love whom, and maybe your love isn’t really any different than anybody else’s love.” (Wow, that was a long sentence; I got to take a breath myself.)

Anyway, ya gotta dig these cartoons:

First Church of GOPDevout Christian

And So It Goes–Another “Moral” Republican, Presidential-Hopeful “Goes Down” . . . So To Speak . . . All the Way to Argentina

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, another of the "A-List" Republicans

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, another one of the "A-List" Republicans

“Lost” Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina has come back to the States from Argentina, and upon his return admitted to having an affair with an Argentinian woman whom he had met some eight years ago.  This is the same Republican governor who made such a big fuss over the stimulus package and didn’t want to take money for his state, which in the end the state legislature accepted.

We probably should start making some tick marks on the calendar to see how many weeks in a row, these Republican big-wigs are going to “come out” admitting to breaking some biblical rule.  It was just last week that U.S. Senator John Ensign admitted to having had an affair with an employee, who was also the wife of one of his top aides.

These types are the same ones who rail against gay marriage and espouse the “sanctity of marriage”.

Just once I’d like to hear from any of the bible-beaters and have them show where that book says there is anything wrong with love, either gay or straight.  What I don’t understand is where they get all so quiet and seem like the shyest little girl in the corner, when one of these conservative Republicans breaks one of the 10 commandants from their own holy book.  I mean, one of the 10 commandments; that should be like really a big deal, but they’d rather go on harping, campaigning, and spending money trying to tear down gay people based on a few debatable verses.

More Damaging Fallout for Republicans from the Ensign Affair; More of their “Moral” Values Lead to Even More Hypocrisy

John Ensign, Republican Senator

John Ensign, Republican Senator

The situation surrounding the admitted affair of Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign is getting even more damaging for Republicans.

Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman who was involved with Ensign, says he wrote a letter to that favorite network of the right, Fox News, informing them of the affair and asking for their help. Both Hampton and his wife Darlene had worked for Hampton, and their 19-year-old son had also been given a job during the affair.

In the letter, Hampton also said that Hampton’s roommate, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, knew about the affair. (Please tell me–why do U.S. Senators need roommates?)

Fox News claims that they didn’t get a letter from Hampton, but strangely enough, it was not soon thereafter that Ensign publicly admitted to the affair.

Ensign’s Republican colleagues are saying nothing more than it’s a private situation and they feel so sorry for his family.

What short memories they have! How much time and taxpayers’ money did the Republicans in Congress spend trying to force President Clinton out of office after the Lewinsky revelations? For months on end, basically all other congressional work stopped so that they could force every little detail out. But now with Ensign, they want only to say, “It’s a personal situation.” What hypocrites!

One of those giving support to Ensign is beleaguered Governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, who is in the process of divorcing his wife. The Las Vegas Sun says this about Gibbons’ response to Ensign’s admission:

Ensign’s admission comes on top of a string of disclosures and allegations about Gibbons. Since his election in 2006, Gibbons has been accused of sexual assault, sending love notes on a state phone and improperly firing a state employee. In recent court documents related to divorce proceedings, his wife, Dawn, accused him of a history of infidelity.

This is the same Gibbons who recently vetoed a domestic partners bill in Nevada. Fortunately, the Nevada Senate was able to override Gibbons’ veto.

Aren’t these two Nevada Republican politicians the true posterboys for the sanctity of marriage? How many more closet doors will be cracked open before people realize the true hypocrisy in the actions and words of these leaders of the so-called “moral” Grand Old Party.