Compiled from responses gathered from participants of Keshet’s National Training Institutes
Have you ever heard someone use the expression, “That’s so gay!” to convey something negative? When “gay” is used pejoratively, it reinforces the idea that being gay is something to be ashamed of. Here are a few things you can do the next time you hear someone use the word “gay” in a negative way:
- Don’t ignore it. You may be tempted to just let it slide, but this reinforces the idea that the person who said it did nothing wrong. It’s important to respond immediately after the person uses the phrase to make it clear that derogatory language will not be tolerated. . This is even more important if you are in a position of power, such as a leader, rabbi, teacher, or counselor.
- Lean in with curiosity and avoid judgment. Asking genuine questions will make the person less defensive and help them question their motives. You could start with “what makes that gay?” or “what does gay mean to you?”
- Emphasize what the word “gay” actually means. If the person is unable to do this themselves, you can use this moment to explain what the word “gay” means and why it’s not okay to use it in a pejorative manner. Stating clearly that “gay” means attraction to the same gender or similar genders educates the person you are speaking to and, hopefully, causes them to question their assumptions.
- Name the consequences of offensive language. Help the person understand that words have power. You can ask them something like, “What if someone, maybe one of your friends, is gay and heard you say that?”
- Use it as an educational moment. Take the opportunity to ask the person what they are trying to express and provide them with alternative language. This way, you’re not just addressing something in the moment, you’re also providing the person with better language to use in the future.
- Explain why you are offended. Offer a personal explanation of exactly why what they said was offensive. For example, you can say something like, “My friend/family member is gay and I know they don’t want their identity to be treated as something offensive.”
- Be preemptive. If you have a friend group or family mostly consisting of straight-identifying people, consider bringing up topics regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion so that they know in advance that certain phrases, like “That’s so gay,” are not okay to use.