Silence is Consent.

…is just one of the powerful messages from this video on eliminating the word “gay” as a pejorative.  Have you seen it?  I promise you it is worth your time.  I wish I would have had it to share when I was a high school teacher. Granted, I would have had to figure out how to blur out the visual of the f-word, but it says more in 5 minutes than I think I could have had I devoted an entire lecture to the subject.

And while I never devoted an entire lecture to the subject, my fumbling attempts to not be silent usually went something like this…

High School Kid – “Aww, Ms. Long, that’s so gay.  Why do we have to write a sentence to explain our answer?  This is math.”

Me – “So, you’re telling me you’re looking forward to this assignment?”

High School Kid – “Ha, no…yeah.  Wait, what?”

Me – “You said it was ‘so gay.’  I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you mean happy…or homosexual, but that doesn’t really make sense in this context, so I’ll assume you think it’s an awesome assignment….right?”  (Long pause while I nod hoping the kid will take the bait.)

High School Kid’s friend – “Yeah, we can’t say ‘shut-up’ or ‘stupid’ in here either, remember?”

High School Kid – “Oh yeah…that’s gay.”

And…end scene.

Sigh.

Now, this was five-to-ten years ago and in a less-than-progressive part of the country. But that doesn’t make it any less disheartening.  Of course there were gay (homosexual, I mean) students sitting in my classroom.  And, of course there were straight kids sitting in the room feeling frustrated by the use of that word which (perhaps unintentionally) hurt their friend.  And, likely, the kid in the scene above was just trying to look cool or save face with his/her comments.

Sometimes, though, it went a little differently.  Sometimes a brave soul in the room would speak up too.  Sometimes I’d see a quiet face in the back of the classroom suddenly look up and take notice.

I’m not saying we necessarily changed the climate in any of my classrooms; I could have (should have) done more.  (Maybe I could have given extra credit for those students who could come up with a creative “so gay” alternative?  There are some great ones suggested at the 3:05 mark.)

But I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful that at least one kid felt a little less like the world was against him.  I’m hopeful that at least one student felt a little more bold in standing up for her friend.  And, if nothing else, I’m hopeful that maybe a seed or two was planted.

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