Setting the record straight

Stonewall, a leading gay rights charity, has issued posters to schools across Britain as part of a campaign to challenge the misuse of the word ‘gay’ by young people. With the clear slogan “Gay: Let’s Get The Meaning Straight”, the campaign aims to shed light on the meaning of the term, and issues guidance for its usage.

Fronting the campaign is Will Young. He argues that the word ‘gay’ is currently “the worst insult” used by young people. However, when the perpetrators of the action are young children with no intent to cause offence, how far is this true? Frequently, children are using the term with little understanding of its actual meaning or of the gravity behind the word, and are using it in a way unrelated to sexuality. Whilst it is crucial that schools tackle homophobia, it should be taken into account that there is a difference between children using the word offensively, and their use of it without harmful intent and among friends in the school playground.

Children may also be repeating terms they’ve heard through the media, and their use of the word may simply be their way of experimenting with new knowledge. In this respect, the use of the word gay can quite often be harmless, and serious action is only necessary in extreme occasions. Realistically speaking, children are simply not capable of the same level of logic as adults, and it is not right to judge them by the same standards and condemn all usage of the word gay.

This campaign appears unnecessary when focusing on the transformation of the term gay throughout the years. Its original meaning was ‘carefree’ and ‘happy’, and nowadays the term is ascribed to homosexual people. Is it not thus possible to state that, for young people, the word has acquired a new meaning that is unrelated to sexuality? They view it as a word that can be used to describe objects or activities negatively, and not as a term that meant to cause offence.

Another key issue encountered with this campaign is that it is highly doubtful that some witty, bright posters will tackle homophobic feelings and prejudices among young people. It seems much more important that young people are able to freely discuss these issues, rather than being told that a word is simply banned in the playground. Pupils in schools need to understand why certain words can be construed as offensive, and only through understanding can such issues be prevented in future. Stonewall’s campaigners point out that there is extremely high levels of suicide and self-harm rates among gay teens, and they believe tackling playground language could help. It’s clear that something must be done about this, but the problem is too deep-rooted for such a solution. Limiting the use of ‘gay’ in schools will not solve problems and will only serve to further isolate gay youngsters from their peers.

Stonewall’s campaign could be detrimental through discouraging children from using the term and making it a taboo-like subject. Although it is positive sign that organisations and staff are trying to challenge prejudice and homophobia in schools, there is a need for an approach that further involves students and doesn’t scare them away from discussing homosexuality. The campaign mentions the role of parents in changing the culture of schools. Such discussions need to begin at home, as in many cases children emulate the attitudes of their parents. Any instructions or guidance provided by school must be reinforced by open and positive discussions at home, or else we will never move forward. Therefore, the problem is too complex to simply be dealt with by distributing posters across schools; it is one that requires an open dialogue between parents, students and teachers in order to be solved.


  1. So, you’re saying that it’s okay to let children use something that actually describes an identity as an insult?

    Do. Your. Research.

    Stonewall can be awful (especially on trans issues etc), and they make mistakes, but you come off as (admittedly probably/hopefully accidentally) prejudiced and not knowing your facts.

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  2. Until people start doing this with ‘lame’ and ‘dumb’ it’s a pretty one-dimensional campaign. I think there are elements of truth in this article though; I personally feel weird using to work ‘gay’ to mean homosexual, because it makes a link between ‘carefree’ and ‘happy’, which in itself seems pretty insulting to me. I also find ‘straight’ a little off-putting too…

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  3. Again. Again with the ‘intent to cause offence’ – is everyone at Nouse wilfully stupid or is this a conspiracy to rile up the students of york?

    You may not intend to offend but if you still cause offence your apparently innocent lack of intention will be no comfort to the the person whose day you’ve just ruined.

    Would you let your child say the n-word, or cunt, or fuck? They’re only kids, they don’t know what it means, after all.

    Why should discussions about homosexuality be framed by a debate around the negative impact of the word ‘gay’? Why must it be an uphill struggle from the start?

    ffs. You’re probably smarter than this. When will Comment sections stop stop accepting contrarian pitches just to spice things up a bit?

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  4. Sorry, but this is ridiculous. Lucy, you are right. First Nouse attack Vision for being sensationalist, but then turn round and right write comment pieces that are thinly veiled but serve exactly the same purpose.

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  5. 25 Nov ’13 at 10:56 am


    You might pretend you’re the classy alternative, but as far as you can push it in your boring, dreary exterior you’re desperately trying to garner media attention. Trouble is you’re just a boring broadsheet nobody gives two shits about.

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  6. 25 Nov ’13 at 12:36 pm

    Disappointed Reader

    So a word used to describe a section of society is used as an insult or a description of negativity and somehow this is ok?
    If someone described various types of negative behaviour as ‘black’ would they then not be racist?
    Is it ok for school children to call each other muslims as an insult?
    Can i describe the amount of work i have to do as ‘so chinese’?
    This article is just a lazy justification for the perpetuation of prejudice full of false logic and unsubstantiated assertions.

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  7. I’d give this a read if I were you- rare sense from YorkVision

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  8. You need a reality check.

    If someone calls something “gay”, and then clarifies that they don’t mean it as “gay as in homosexual” but “gay as in bad”, what sort of message does that send? How does it sound? Think about it.

    I’m gay.
    He’s gay.
    That’s gay.
    This is gay.

    They might have different intentions, but really, they don’t. If you use “gay” in a negative sense, because it quite clearly and obviously and ubiquitously is a sexuality & culture identifier, you are saying that homosexuality is a negative thing, a bad thing.

    And if you can’t grasp why that might be, and is, upsetting for LGBT people to hear – at any age – perhaps you should go back to primary school, and take part in the Stonewall lessons.

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  9. Whoever wrote this clearly doesn’t understand that prejudice starts in language, and if it becomes ingrained in language then it gets ingrained in people’s consciousness and people can use it flippantly without realising the much deeper underlying connotations it has. Language is filled with patriarchal bias as well which certainly doesn’t help with perceptions of sexism as people end up adopting ah ‘get over it’ attitude. Whoever wrote this is, quite clearly, a moron who has totally missed the point.

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  10. 25 Nov ’13 at 4:09 pm

    Worse than the Daily Mail

    This is surely the most poorly-researched, moronic piece to appear in Nouse for some time. Reading this is aking to listening to the bloke in the pub who insists on telling you what he thinks about a given topic, with no facts or evidence.
    Of course a poster campaign alone won’t tackle homophobia. Of course we need an open dialogue between parents, teachers etc. Stonewall may often miss the point, but even they’re not suggesting that this poster campaign should preclude grown-up conversation.
    TL;DR: You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

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  11. Being moderate in lots of things is important, and I understand a distaste for radicalism, but I completely, completely disagree with what you’re saying here. The inconsistency and confused structure of this article reflects how poorly thought through it is. Do your homework and get some empathy going because it’s arguments like this that allow prejudice to continue unchecked and unchallenged.

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