Homophobic slurs do more than just hurt feelings, they take lives.
I remember the first time I was ever called a 'faggot' to my face. I was in sixth grade, and it came from the mouth of a friend who I had eaten lunch with for the past year. When I asked her where we were eating lunch that day, she told me that we wouldn't be eating together because I 'was a faggot, and all my friends were faggots'. This moment profoundly affected my development. It was the first time I remember feeling judged. I remember my face got hot, and I felt like I couldn't breathe. It was like I was standing naked in front of everyone, with a scarlet 'H' carved into my chest, right over my heart. I spent that lunch period hiding in the bathroom, too ashamed to come out (no pun intended). From that moment on, I assumed everyone thought I was gay, even though I didn't even really know what that meant yet. As a result of that one, random interaction, I decided to lower my voice at all times, speak in monotone, and be mindful of my affectations. To this day, I still speak in that monotone, even though on every other level I have accepted my sexuality and am proud to identify as a gay man.
When I was working on the MuricaX artwork, I struggled with whether or not to include the word 'faggot'. Cautious friends urged me to use the word 'homo' instead, citing that the imagery was already hard to look at, and incendiary language might make it worse. I thought about it, but then I remembered what it was like the first time I was ever called a 'faggot'. I decided then and there it was absolutely necessary to use that word. That word, is one of the reasons gay children all over the world are taking their own lives.
As many as 30% of LGBT youth will attempt suicide by the age of 15. Conservative estimates say that 1,500 of them will succeed every year. That is 1,500 bright lights, snuffed out by hatred. 1,500 lives at the very beginning of their journey, that will never reach their full potential. 1,500 hearts that were so broken they didn't see any other way out. 1,500 messages that have thus far, fallen on deaf ears.
Homophobic slurs like 'faggot', and 'dyke' aren't the cause of all of that death, but they are a symptom of a much larger problem in our society. These words are brands that hateful people put on others as a way to mask their own fear or put people down. They are words used as slang, to poke fun at others, or to make tasteless jokes.
The effects of such words are no joke however, and we, as a society need to stand against it. Especially in times like these, when hatred is right in front of our faces and all around us, being given a free pass for bigotry because an orange attention whore decided to use hate-mongering as a presidential campaign device, we need to stand against it.
I am currently in Alabama staying with my mother at a hospital as she goes through chemotherapy treatment. As you can imagine this gives us plenty of time for long conversations. Her name is Joyce Randall, and as the proud mother of two gay sons, she said:
'Homophobic people in general are totally ignorant, and are so hell-bent on putting gay people down that they don't realize they are full of hostility and hate. They don't know what it's like to walk in a gay person's shoes, and they are deeply unhappy with themselves. So they pretend they are happy and hide behind their religion, but at the root of it all is nothing but anger and hate, both of which are based out of fear. I say 'Who gives a damn? Do your own thing, live your own life, and quit putting your nose in other people's business. That is not your responsibility to take on, especially if you are the parent of a gay child."
My point in all of this is, words have power. I used to use the word 'faggot' all the time, until I stopped to think about how much damage it actually causes. I used to think that as long as we used it as a joke, it wouldn't matter, and that making light of it would give the word less power.
I was wrong.
So I urge everyone who reads this to think twice about what it really means when you throw around the word 'faggot'. It is not a word to be dismissed as a joke. The deaths of children are not something to be taken lightly.
If you are as angry as I am about this, there are obviously a few things you can do. You can donate to the Trevor Project, you can reach out to LGBT youth in your community and let them know that they have an ally in you, or on the smallest of scales, you can just stop saying the word 'faggot', and stop letting it slide when the people around you do. You may never realize it, but it could literally mean the difference between life or death for a young person out there, who is at the very beginning of what is already a very difficult path to travel.
There are many ways I could end this article, but I don't think I could say it anywhere near as well as my mother did, when she said this:
'Little gay boys everywhere have to hide and pretend. It's so damn stressful living a life of doubt and insecurity, especially at that age. It's no way to live, and these kids know that, and they kill themselves because they think that painful existence is all their lives will ever be. They kill themselves because of this reality of hatred in our country, and in the world. So we have to change our country, the world, and that reality. And that change can begin with one single word.'