This week we saw a very powerful reminder of something we don't often have to think about.
Whenever we talk, we need to not only think about what we want to say, we also need to think about what those who are listening will hear. We can change our personal definitions of words any way want. But we don't get to demand that everyone else do the same.
It doesn't matter whether anti-gay slurs are used to target someone specifically for being gay, for acting outside gender norms, or for something completely unrelated. What matters is what these words mean to the young people against whom these words are used as weapons, day in and day out, often alongside other verbal or physical assaults.
We are grateful that students from the Hetrick-Martin Institute shared their thoughts on the use of anti-gay slurs with us, after bisexual rapper Azaelia Banks used the word fa**ot on Twitter, then defended her use of it by saying she meant 'someone who acts like a woman.'
She has since not responded to GLAAD emails asking to speak about the slurs and what it could mean to her fans.
"I hate the word 'fa**ot.' It means dirty, trash, poor, 'you're nobody.' I feel like some people are judging my sexuality when they use it. I wouldn't tolerate it from anyone." - Nicole
"I'm a lesbian, and we aren't really called a 'fa**ot.' People more use words like 'd*ke' or 'abomination' for us. Either way, hate speech is hate speech. If you know the history of the word 'fa**ot,' it refers to a bundle of burning sticks, and how they used to burn gay people. There's nothing funny about the word at all. It breaks my heart when I hear people in the community using it toward each other, joking or not." - Angela
"We don't have many role models of queer women of color. I felt kind of upset when I heard that Azealia used that word. It's like so easy to go there and there's many other reasons why Perez Hilton is annoying, like how he 'outs' people. She could've said so many other things, like about his character, but she went there." - Jay
"I think if you're a celebrity, you have a certain level of responsibility. Young kids might listen to her and hear that and think it's okay because she said it. It wasn't until I was older that I realized the different levels and meanings of certain words." - Karisma
Perez Hilton also issued a response today, saying: "I'm no saint. I've made my mistakes. And I learned first-hand the negative impact of that word and stated in 2009 that I would not use it."
There is no debate that young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people today are subjected to a high and unfair level of bullying, harrassment and violence. When celebrities and media use the word, it gives license to their bullies. According to GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey more than 80% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, almost 40% reported being physically harassed and nearly 20% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. More than two-thirds of these students heard homophobic remarks (e.g., "dyke" or "fa**ot") frequently or often at school.
NoHomophobes.com tracks the number of times anti-gay slurs, such as "fa**ot" or "d*ke," are used on Twitter on any given day. At the time of this writing, "fa**ot" has appeared in over 14,000 tweets already today.
If you are interested in sharing your story about what anti-LGBT slurs mean to you, please visit www.glaad.org/shareyourstory.