Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Powder Blue...The Power of Words

By now most of us have seen the video or at least heard about the incident that took place at a Cleveland area high school football game when rival teams shouted anti-gay chants at each other in an attempt to out due each others attempts at humiliation. The Video was posted to YouTube by a student of the school who attended the game and was appalled by what she heard. Given the spate of gay suicides due to bullying and homophobia, the video served to highlight the culture and attitudes that can lead to the hopelessness and despair in LGBT teens that can contribute to suicide.  But...oh my, has the conversation been heated about this video. There's been so much anger and backlash that the student who originally posted it has had make her video private.

Its this heated conversation and wildly divergent viewpoints that I would like to address today. When is a word more than just a word and what is our responsibility for the words we use? Is it fair to equate the words used against gays to words used against other minorities?...Is this just innocent ribbing between rival teams or something much larger that even the users of these words cant grasp? And finally...sticks and stones may break my bones but do words really hurt us?

*warning* up to now I have kept the language clean, and I hope...professional. From here on out it will get raw and I will not censor myself. If this language bothers you, then you may  want to move on. The video is below the fold along with a possible change in rating from "PG" to "Pg-13" after the jump...

There we have it. Willoughby South High throws out "Halloween Homos!" at Eastlake North High who returns with "Powder blue faggots!" Apparently, this has been going on for years and has become something of a tradition between these two schools. Indeed many of the comments left on the video express an utter lack of surprise and ask..."whats the big deal? This has been going on forever."

Some of the comments in the video express this better than I can:

"Wow...really. come on. It's a rival game. There's worse said and it's kinda catchy. Powder Blue Faggots and the Halloween Homos!  Hahahaha..."

"What a bunch of politically correct nonsense. You liberal PC police need to read up on the first amendment."

"whatever happened to sticks and stones?"
The same sentiments continue to be echoed on comments left on YouTube, as the debate raged between those who saw this a an act that stabs at the heart of LGBT people and those who insinuate that being offended by this is being "oversensitive"...

"It was a harmless chant against a rival school that was saying pretty much the same thing right back, yet no one is talking about the kids from the other school, chastising them and making them out to be terrible people. You people need to get over yourselves."

"I was confused as to whether or not i should like or dislike the video lol but seriously the whole "their high schoollers" is bullshit. sure they can be idiotic shits but they know the right between right and wrong. and this shit is wrong. sure it might be a chant but its a chant that stabs at least one gay or lesbian person many times, in either crowd and that is one too much. "

"Again bringing us back to my original post. Over-dramatic much? There were no deaths caused by the chanting from the students in the video. You want to start a crusade over something so insignificant where literally no one was hurt or offended, besides the one over-sensitive person who decided to not only video tape this but send it in to the news just to get her 15 minutes of fame, you go right ahead."

"Sticks and stones??? If they had started a chant that included any other derogatory term, no one would have gone along with it. It seems "faggots" is widely accepted...And no, we are not overreacting. If they had said "nigger" or "heeb" the media would be all over this."

O.k....that's a pretty good sampling of the shite storm that's raging across any Facebook or YouTube page that hosts the video. Those defending the chanters actions came from both the straight and gay camps...which surprised me. Their arguments in defense of the actions center around  a few points:

1)...That the chanters participated an an innocent action who's focus was the rivalry between teams..not hatred of gays and should not be interpreted as such.

(my response): It's very possible..even likely, that these high schoolers didn't have actual hatred of gays in  their minds when they did this. But its equally possible that some of them did. None of us can know exactly what was in their minds. It's their actions here that are called into question and the lack of response or oversight on the part of the school. In addition, its not active hate that's being addressed here but rather an unconscious and passive version....a background of scorn and derision that sets the foundation for more personal forms of violence and hatred. They point is not to judge these kids...they are just kids...they are acting out what generations before them have taught them to be....its the mindset and culture of homophobia that is taught and accepted because "that's the way its always been" that is being called out.

....and we all know you don't have to actually be gay to called a "faggot", "homo",  "dyke", or "cocksucker". Anyone can get caught in that net, straights and gays alike. Its when you know that you are gay that real shame sets in. You think, "Oh shit, they know about me" and you live like a hunted animal until you learn not to be afraid and ashamed of who you are.

2)...This chant and "far worse" have been going on for years and no one has had an issue with it before today.

(my response): Indeed "far worse" has been done through out history. That doesn't mean that we accept it forever. At some point we have to realise that our actions are causing harm and make a change. Just because we have discriminated against and derided certain groups for decades and it was accepted...doesn't mean we should go on doing it forever. At some point we have to wake up...our history bares this out.

3) That the students have a right to free speech and any efforts to limit it actually abridge their rights.

(my response):So do I have the right to go around shouting slurs at black people? Women? Jewish people?  Can we go to this school and chant "straight white bigots!"?...No? think people would be rightfully angry if that happened? Whats the difference?... and why are my rights not being abridged if I can't?

Just because we can, does not mean its right. You can say those things on any average street corner..if you have the stones to take the results....but not in public schools or any state or federal institution. Nor can you make comments that can lead to harm being brought upon another. With our right to express our opinion...we have still placed limits for its safe use without abridging the rights of others. When you use a slur this way against any literally is like yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater.

4) That any outrage over the use of the word "faggot" or "homo" counts as over oversensitivity on the part of the listener...or worse as some sort of liberal agenda to enforce their "politically correct" views and terminology on others.

(my response):In my mind, this argument is made by someone who isn't gay and doesn't understand the significance of the word. It simply does not affect them. And rather than acknowledge that words like "faggot" cause harm...thus necessitating a change on their parts...its easier to invoke the specter of the PC Police. Its kind of funny actually...because even though they are perfectly comfortable with words like "faggot" I bet there are a closet full of things they HATE to be called and would respond to with think?

5)That actions like these which are not directly tied to an intent to shame or intimidate gays DO NOT contribute to the deaths of teens...LGBT or otherwise.

(my response): Not directly no...but they do encourage and give support to the people that DO tease and bully kids to death. When your chanting Faggot at the game and see that others around you are doing it and everyones laughing and more importantly...connected in unity...its a short jump to expect that if you kick the shit out of that gay kid, you will likely get a congratulatory slap on the back from the guys to go with your slap on the wrist from the school.

6) those who killed themselves were weak in some way. Many others have endured this climate and survived.

(my response): Congratulations! you survived...that in no way means that those who didn't are weak. In a different set of circumstances you may not have survived. Its not fair to look at these kids and judge them as weak because they could not or would not continue to live with their pain. Many of many of us...myself included have been down this path and the majority of us did not commit suicide...but we may have tried...we may have wished for death. We may have wished simply to be anyone other than who we were. If those feelings have occurred in you in any way...than you perhaps can see it with a little empathy and less blame.

So why all the ruffled feathers?...

The overall theme of the comments made in support of the high school chanters seems to be "its only words"....that all of us have been called names at some point in time and we really should learn to deal with it. "sticks and stones" after all. Hell...that much is true. if we had a dime for every time we got called faggot, homo, dykes, or cocksuckers with some neanderthall two inches away from our faces and surrounded by squad of goons....we would be richer than Bill Gates...but all of that misses one point.

We are at a point in our history were, as a community, we are standing up and demanding to be treated as equals. We will no longer shrink into the shadows and accept a life on the margins. A certain portion of that mean that we can be above playground name calling. The old saw is true...its not what you call me, its what I answer to. No one will grant us dignity, it's something only we can give to is also time to bring to light the culture and attitudes that create the idea that being gay is something bad...something worthy of mockery. If its not o.k. to say "that's gay", then how is"powder blue faggots" not worse? Its not o.k. to do this to other groups so why is it still o.k. to do it to us?...its not...and furthermore, I believe that its o.k. not to accept that anymore.

On the flipside, I don't think it's fair or productice to blame these kids...though it is fair to call out their actions. Its also fair to ask why not one single adult or school official stood up and corrected them. Its fair to ask schools to be involved in ending this behavior...not simply denying knowledge and washing their hands of it all after someone kills themselves. It is never fair to blame those who died because the world makes them feel defective and unwanted. Condemnation and blame will do nothing to help end this. Helping to foster understanding and awareness can...talking frankly about it can...bringing it to light as it happens can. Understanding that these things are taught by what we don't tell our children as much as what we do.

Its why I stand by and give credit to Heather Ike for having the courage to post the video to YouTube and take the incredible amount of flak she is receiving online and from her school for doing it. I also want to give credit to Sean Chapin for reposting the video and drawing the connections between actions such as these and why LGBT teens commit suicide. Please stop by both of their channels and show them your appreciation.

That's just my two cents...Until next time dear readers...


  1. ugh. all of those points are crap. I just picture someone smirking while they brought up those points to a gay person.

    it's so crazy... to play xbox online you have to deal with constantly being called a faggot. I was browsing the games just now and found this...

    ok. kinda off topic right there but just wanted to share bcuz i dont really know who to share it with. thanks.

  2. When we diminish the Human spirit, be it words or fear, we diminish life. If ones life is then deemed less worthy, it becomes ridicule and harassment. Harassment, becomes violence. Violence can become death.

    If you forge the first link in the chain of hate, you are not long to cast many more. Life is precious, no matter who it may be.

    It's not about strength or sensitivity it's about value. Do we value Human life or do we not. You can disagree all you want but value should never be on the table for discussion.

    People can keep their hate. I would rather know love.


  3. I understand the frustration everyone feels, both sides, about this incident. I agree with your stance that it's not the kids who are in the wrong, it's the underlying elements, especially the mindless march of tradition, that must be addressed. I get this question a lot: Do I take offense when people call something "gay"? I personally do not because the word has been so divorced from the real meaning that even those who use it don't connect it with homosexuality. Originally I'm sure it was consciously used as a hateful, derogatory term, but times have clearly changed.

    HOWEVER, just because it is an accepted norm doesn't mean it should be given a free pass. It used to be fashionable to own a person as if they were a piece of furniture or farming equipment, but we were able to break that 3,000 year old tradition. All that is needed is that we must bring these useless traditions to light and force people to re-examine their perspective and understanding of them.

    And that's really what the problem is: Understanding. Three of the points (6,5,and 4) are generated by ignorance and misunderstanding of the situation that many young LGBT kids face in school. The use of the words "faggot, homo, gay, etc." in a derogatory way are very hurtful and contribute to an already hostile atmosphere (for most High Schools). It becomes a constant burden on the mind which in many cases must be borne alone. It's far too early still for people to be saying that we are being "oversensitive," especially when there are still many suicides going on.

    I also respectfully disagree with your earlier point that such a chant does not directly contribute to suicides. Aren't the name callings and off-handed slurs some of the causes for self-depreciation? And if suicides are caused by both incredible hardship and the belief of one's life being worthless, then wouldn't such nonchalant and unconscious displays of hate directly contribute?

    I don't think the idea of suicide denoting weakness is based in any way in rational logic; such a disgusting, odious idea is founded on an unabashed display of ignorance, arrogance, and confounding misunderstanding. "Sticks and stones?" Is there any human compassion going on in there people? Do they care at all that young kids are dying?

    Again, it's a misunderstanding that causes these young people to act this way. And the only way to solve this problem is to try and teach them so then, years from now, the school officials will stand up and tell these kids that the Tradition must end.

    With all the well-wishing I can muster to those who need it,

  4. Sticks and stones
    Can break my bones,
    But words
    Can leave scars that last a lifetime . . .

  5. Great entry. Also great responses.

    I'm noticing a disturbing number of internet trolls going around constantly playing the "you're just being politically correct" card whenever they make racist/homophobic comments. There's also the usual accusations of pushing some liberal agenda, over-sensitivity, and minorities having all the power. With such high numbers of individuals having a similar opinion or viewpoint, it's starting to look like a degree of political organization or at least indoctrination is involved. Somebody has to be teaching these individuals the same defensive stances, the same rhetoric, the same attitudes, etc.

    Clearly a lot of individuals are being educated with the same kind of unapologetic bigoted thinking whether it be through formal means or just informally passed down from peer to peer at schools, in the home, at church, etc. It's scary because I can waste 10-20 minutes of my life explaining elementary concepts of human decency to these individuals, and quite frankly they just don't care. The high levels of bias, close-mindedness, and and just plain hatred is frustrating to deal with and its discouraging that I'm seeing a bunch of clones all over the internet at various different places all with these same horrendous attitudes

  6. u3q2v, trolls really don't care. They may not even actually believe what they are saying. But, like a few conservative pundits I've heard of, they say stuff for their own amusement. Don't waste your time with them. They're the virtual equivalent of a bully.

  7. I felt really stupid seeing that first video, knowing that, even though I'm gay, I'm still not doing anything about all this namecalling, hurting eachother. I means this problem I believe is world wide, or I do have proof, even in swedish schools people are calling each other "gay" and "faggot", "dyke" (or swedish equivalents). And I do nothing about it, because, it's used so often, you get used to the idea that it might just be a word. And I if anyone should know that this is really hurtfull (i've been at that edge of life many times, and sometimes due to this, but I feel better now).

    And you can't get away from this, that even though you're not contributing, calling names or whatever. You can never be an innocent bystander, that just doesn't exist, if someone is being harrased and you just stand there, you are still showing you think it is OK.

    But I will stop now, and I hope people try with me. And sometimes I think it takes just one to change something, because then If someone around me is feeling the same way as me, then soon things might get better.

  8. Bryan, great post. I share your point of view and am very happy that somebody stands up for our folks. How dare they as a school in the 21 century?! It feels like in human rights for minorities the US hasn't gone far from Uganda and Uzbekistan.