"Gay" tops insult list, teachers say
(Reproducing an Article By Peter Lloyd in the Pink Paper, 2nd April 2008)
The term "gay" is the most frequently used insult in British schools, a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has revealed.
For the current generation, gay, bitch and slag are the most common terms of abuse by children of all ages, especially teenagers.
Of the teachers interviewed, 83 per cent said they heard gay being used regularly - much more than its nearest rivals, bitch (59 per cent) and slag (45 per cent).
"Every generation grows up with a whole lexicon of homosexual insults, in my day it was 'poofter' or "bender'," lexicographer Tony Thorne told the BBC. "They were used much more because they were considered more offensive than 'gay', which is more neutral.
"It's only in the last four years that it I've documented it being used so much by young people. It's what we call a 'vogue' word, which is a fashionable word."
One reason for this increase in use could be because "gay" has partly lost its sexual connotations among young people, he says. While still pejorative, for the majority of youngsters it has replaced words such as "lame".
"I have interviewed scores of school kids about this and they are always emphatic that it has nothing at all to do with hostility to homosexuals," says Mr Thorne, compiler of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. "It is nearly always used in contexts where sexual orientation and sexuality are completely irrelevant."
The ATL survey suggests a different case, aligning the word with deliberate insults such as poofta and sissy.
|What teachers hear
None of the experts quoted in this article considers what effect it would have if black students were called by any of the equivalent, racist terms.
None of them considers the effect on the self-esteem of black pupils if they were normally referred to by such terms, or their ethnic identity were normally denigrated, and this was deemed acceptable.
None of them considers the effect on a pupil's self esteem has on their ability to study and to succeed. None of them considers the figures on truancy and early school leaving of LGBT students.
"Oh, I didn't mean anything by it!"
"'Gay' is used of things that are weak or don't work
- not of people."
None of the experts considers the effect on a gay student when his or her identity is always referred to pejoratively - and when even teachers find this acceptable.
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