March 2nd, 2007

That’s So Gay


photo credit: Ichor

Using current vernacular, the issue I’m about to discuss is “gay” (read: stupid, idiotic, absurd, etc.).

The Associated Press has a report discussing a new lawsuit by an LDS family. The issue? “Hate speech”.

Rebekah Rice, a high school freshman in California and a Latter-day Saint, was harassed (you might call it “hate speech”!) by fellow classmates about her religion. Evidently ignorant to the fact that Mormons do not practice polygamy, the classmates asked Rebekah such questions as “Do you have 10 moms?”.

Rebekah’s response: “That’s so gay.”

While her response was void of wit and sagacity (which can only be expected of a freshman), Rebekah’s response was no more “hate speech” than were the religiously-saturated comments her classmates were sending her way.

But who got in trouble? The Mormon girl that said the word gay.

Those three words landed the high school freshman in the principal’s office and resulted in a lawsuit that raises this question: When do playground insults used every day all over America cross the line into hate speech that must be stamped out?

After Rice got a warning and a notation in her file, her parents sued, claiming officials at Santa Rosa’s Maria Carillo High violated their daughter’s First Amendment rights when they disciplined her for uttering a phrase “which enjoys widespread currency in youth culture,” according to court documents.

Testifying last week about the 2002 incident, Rice, now 18, said that when she uttered those words, she was not referring to anyone’s sexual orientation. She said the phrase meant: “That’s so stupid, that’s so silly, that’s so dumb.”

But school officials say they took a strict stand against the putdown after two boys were paid to beat up a gay student the year before.

One might do the school officials a favor and inform them of the many persecutions Mormons have suffered at the hands of religious bigots. Clearly a young Latter-day Saint such as Rebekah deserves to be equally defended. Where are the officials and their “strict stands” when it comes to religion?

“The district has a statutory duty to protect gay students from harassment,” the district’s lawyers argued in a legal brief. “In furtherance of this goal, prohibition of the phrase ‘That’s so gay’ … was a reasonable regulation.”

The teachers aren’t apparently hip to the latest jargon, otherwise they would know that “that’s so gay”, as Rebekah stated in her court hearing, has nothing to do with homosexuality. While such language shows a lack of intellect, it is far from vitriolic and persecutory. Would these teachers react similarly upon hearing another slang term such as “that’s so jewish”? Why is it that sexual affiliation has received any greater weight and protection than religious affiliation?

In recent years, gay rights advocates and educators have tried teaching students that it is hurtful to use the word “gay” as an all-purpose term for something disagreeable. At Berkeley High School, a gay student club passed out buttons with the words “That’s so gay” crossed out to get their classmates to stop using them.

Here’s an English lesson for the gay student club at Berekely High School in an effort to help them understand the nature of this “all-purpose term”:

gay /geɪ/ -er, -est
–adjective

1. having or showing a merry, lively mood: gay spirits; gay music.
2. bright or showy: gay colors; gay ornaments.
3. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures: a gay social season.

Put that on your buttons, kiddos.

Rice’s parents, Elden and Katherine Rice, also claim the public high school employed a double-standard because, they say, administrators never sought to shield Rebekah from teasing based on Mormon stereotypes.

In addition, the Rices say their daughter was singled out because of the family’s conservative views on sexuality. They are seeking unspecified damages and want the disciplinary notation expunged from Rebekah’s school record.

While it’s sad that a lawsuit is required in order to bring attention to this issue, Rebekah’s parents are right to observe a double standard and blatant hypocrisy on the part of these school officials. As the Congress-controlling democrats continue to push their hate speech legislation, we’re bound to see more threats to free speech. I applaud the Rice family for taking a stand for conservative values and the license to tout them just as freely as their opponents tout theirs (could you imagine what kind of ruckus a polygamy club on a high school campus would cause?!)

Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said nearly nine out of 10 gay students her organization surveyed in 2005 reported hearing “That’s so gay” or “You’re so gay” frequently.

So? I was made fun of all the time in school for being LDS. Life is difficult, people are mean, and not everybody agrees with your moral and religious persuasion. Get over it! This is hardly any reason to enforce punishment for mere words.

“The job of a school is to deal proactively and consistently with all forms of bullying, name-calling and harassment,” she said.

So our compulsory education system is also an arm of the police state entity? That’s so gay. Oops, I just said it!

Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization, agreed “That’s so gay” carries a negative meaning and said he would not want his children to say it. But he said formal discipline is not the answer.

“Reasonable people should say, `Let’s put a stop to this kind of search-and-destroy mission by school officials for everything that is politically incorrect,'” he said.

Ah, finally, somebody with a good head on their shoulders. As Lorence mentions, school officials are hardly worthy advocates for policing children, enforcing PC language, defending the minority, and promoting the ideals coming from the appointed boards and institutions (such as the liberal NEA).

They’re educators, not enforcers!

Or are they?

Read quotes about “freedom” on Quoty

14 Responses to “That’s So Gay”

  1. John David Anderson
    March 2, 2007 at 10:25 am #

    I agree with some of the main points (“gay” isn’t often used as a sexual term, the school was being unfair by punishing only the young woman, etc.), but some of the side comments seem to go too far.

    While it’s sad that a lawsuit is required in order to bring attention to this issue, Rebekah’s parents are right to observe a double standard and blatant hypocrisy on the part of these school officials.

    Its my humble opinion that lawsuits like this do nothing but enrage both sides. It doesn’t very much seem the Christlike thing to do, especially for something as trivial as a “warning and a notation in her file.”

    “Dear goodness, this young lady looks like she has a note in her file for saying naughty words. I can’t recommend we admit her to Harvard.”

    I don’t see it. :)

    There’s probably a better way to stand up for conservative values and free speech than dragging the already taxed public education system into a legal battle over a warning and a note.

    Seems rather hypocritical to follow Christ, who gives specific advice on what to do when others persecute you, and slap someone with a lawsuit. I don’t know all the reasons and history behind this particular situation, and while a lawsuit may have been needed, it really seems unlikely given what you’ve explained here.

    As Lorence mentions, school officials are hardly worthy advocates for policing children, enforcing PC language, defending the minority, and promoting the ideals coming from the appointed boards and institutions (such as the liberal NEA).

    I don’t know what you mean by “police”, but if warning a student and making a note about inappropriate language in their file is “enforcing” or “policing” to you, I’d argue that its quite an exaggeration. Discipline in schools is a necessary part of education, as people can’t learn when others are trying to distract, *especially* in the younger grades. Discipline is education.

    I’d also hope that everyone defends the minority. That’s what makes America what it is.

    I also don’t think “liberal ideals” are bad just on account of being liberal. If you’re going to say that its a bad idea, let it be a bad idea on its own rather than having to label it as “liberal” in order to give it weight.

  2. Connor
    March 2, 2007 at 10:37 am #

    Its my humble opinion that lawsuits like this do nothing but enrage both sides. It doesn’t very much seem the Christlike thing to do, especially for something as trivial as a “warning and a notation in her file.”

    I agree that a lawsuit is an overreaction to a reprimand, but I believe that there is a larger battle going on here: that of free speech. And for that reason, the public needs to be educated on just what sort of things are happening in this regard, namely, educators taking the law into their own hands. A lawsuit is a very easy way to throw media attention at an important matter.

    I see your point, but I still feel that this issue needs media exposure. Perhaps there is a better way at getting that exposure? Any ideas?

  3. John David Anderson
    March 2, 2007 at 12:10 pm #

    I wasn’t really commenting on how to get attention, I was trying to point out that there are better ways to resolve a problem than a lawsuit, especially where the damage done is really trivial.

    Sure, attacking someone using the legal system will get you media attention, but if that’s a reason you’re suing someone, I think that’s unethical. I don’t have to have a better idea to know that this particular approach is a bad one.

    How does an issue get better exposure? That’s a complicated question any politician, advertiser, or missionary would love to gain a complete answer to. I’d just suggest using more conventional channels, however: blogging, contacting your representatives and school officials, raise money to advertise… there are established methods of campaigning that are tried and true methods of reaching people.

    Almost anything is better than legal action, really. Exposure might be greater, but it is my opinion that doing so undercuts your underlying principles however benevolent they might be.

  4. Jeff
    March 3, 2007 at 9:38 am #

    They’re educators, not enforcers!

    Have you ever tried to teach a group of kids without being an enforcer as well as an educator? It’s not gonna happen :). Furthermore, you can rant about the “liberal” NEA all you want, but most teachers come from the communities in which they teach and share those same values. For instance, there are a lot of conservative teachers in Utah even though that might not be in their best interest :).

    As for the rest of your post, I agree that the girl was unfairly punished; however, I tend to agree with John that the whole situation doesn’t merit a lawsuit.

    You said:
    So? I was made fun of all the time in school for being LDS. Life is difficult, people are mean, and not everybody agrees with your moral and religious persuasion. Get over it! This is hardly any reason to enforce punishment for mere words.

    Since Columbine, words in school are taken far more seriously. Schools have a responsibility to help kids learn in a safe environment, that includes words. A workplace does the same thing–have you ever been to a sexual harassment training for your job? That is often “enforc[ing] punishment for words.” It is done to provide a safe, comfortable work environment. Schools have the same mandate for their students, although it’s even more inclusive because we deal with kids.

  5. Spencer J
    March 3, 2007 at 6:01 pm #

    At my current job many co-workers and I use the phrase “That is G dude,” the G meaning “Gay.” If something is extra bad we use the phrase, “That is SG” the S meaning “Super.” These co-workers are in there late 20’s and early 30’s. It is gay that we live with such a society that simple phrases that have been around for years can cause the situation like the one you illustrated in your post. Those teachers are SG if you ask me.

  6. Steve M
    March 6, 2007 at 11:57 am #

    There’s certainly a double-standard at play. It makes no sense to discipline one student for making a remark that could be interpreted as being disrespectful of homosexuals while not disciplining other students for making remarks that were clearly disrespectful of someone’s religion.

    That having been said, I think it’s about time we abandon the use of the word “gay” in question. While it doesn’t specifically refer to homosexuals, it was derived from that usage of the word. Even for those that believe homosexuality is immoral, I think it’s time to move past such expressions.

  7. Connor
    October 17, 2008 at 6:11 pm #

    CNN is showing a video today about a few new public service announcements trying to get people to stop saying “That’s so gay”.

    One of the PSAs suggests using “dumb” or “stupid” in lieu of “gay”. So, people are being admonished to make reference to disabled or unintelligent people instead of homosexual people? How is that any better?

    Another issue I have against these PSAs (and the war against “hate speech”) is the intolerance regarding the etymological evolution that takes place with words such as these. After all, as this post explains, the word “gay” originally had nothing to do with one’s sexual preference. Perhaps we should create some PSAs to get homosexuals to stop referring to themselves as gay?

  8. John C.
    October 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm #

    Connor,
    I don’t understand how dumb or stupid can be applied to a minority group (nor am I familiar with a minority group that might choose those terms to describe themselves). I understand that dumb used to refer to mute people; is that the usage you were reminded of?

    In any case, I don’t believe your logic holds up because the usage to which people put “gay” when they say “that’s so gay” is as different from its original meaning as its other current usage in reference to homosexuals. Further, although I may be wrong about this, it is considered a negative in the “that’s so gay” usage becuase of its association with homosexuals. While we don’t use it to say “that’s so homosexual,” the association with homosexuality is, I think, that which gives it a negative connotation amongst those who adopt this usage.

  9. Joe
    October 17, 2008 at 10:52 pm #

    Connor and company,
    “Would these teachers react similarly upon hearing another slang term such as “that’s so jewish”? ”

    I haven’t heard of such a thing, I think that teachers might react the same. Most likely they wouldn’t use ‘thats so jewish’ but I think its just been invented. I was going to list some terms which could be applied to jews, but I am sure most people are aware of at least one. Feel free to find and read a list of ethnic slurs by search engine if you wish.

    Sometimes the use of the word ‘gay’ by young people is to place emphasis on some aspects of homosexuality. For instance some high school student has said, “this book is gay” refering to a text he distained. When questioned about why he said that, the answer was, “because it sucks”. And no he didn’t get punished, but was informed that there better ways to express himself.

    Sometimes people have the wisdom of turning around slurs, and perhaps even adopting them. Frequent reference, or adoption of them takes away some of the sting. I have heard words for women, and black americans used in this manner. Would the school system approve of this type of use? Probably not.

    Sometimes the name of the “nazarene” is used as swear words. Here is the explanation of how this could be a swear word.

    “The form “YESHUA” has been cited to be from the acronym “YESHU”, a mutilation of Yahushua’s Name used by unbelieving Yahudim during the late 1st and 2nd century CE (search google.com for more on this). The letters in “YESHU” stood for the sentence, “Yemach Shmo u’Zikro” meaning “may his name be blotted out” (from the scroll of life). You can search the internet yourself with these letters, and find this to be true. This “Yeshu” acronym is highly likely the root of the form “JESUS”, ”

    http://www.fossilizedcustoms.com/transliteration.html

    Some people do use the word “jesus” to express that someone is hard headed, not very intelligent or redicoulous or not following reason. Its not really meant as an insult to any follower of the nazarene, but it might be taken as such by a believer.

  10. Joe
    October 31, 2008 at 11:05 pm #

    I am totally suprised this is overlooked. The name “JESUS CHRIST” is used as a swear word, in instances which sound like ‘that is so gay’. Wouldn’t that suggest that Jesus Christ is so gay?

  11. Daniel
    November 1, 2008 at 4:23 am #

    While I avoid this usage myself, as a linguist I don’t have a problem with it. This is just another example of the meaning of a word changing.

    We’re all aware that ‘gay’ used to mean ‘happy’ (and still may), but it turns out that the word was next applied to people who lived lives of lasciviousness (e.g. ‘gay Lothario c. 1600s’), then to homosexuals (c. 20th century), and now it’s being used in a more general way to describe something bad or undesirable. This kind of semantic shift happens all the time.

    There’s another wrinkle to this. The word ‘bad’ actually comes from Old English words ‘bæddel’ and ‘bædling’, which meant “effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast.” So ‘gay’ is following exactly the same course that gave us ‘bad’. Things do come back around, don’t they?

    Joe: I’m highly suspicious of any etymology that involves acronymy from that time period. Oxford has it as a variant of Yeshua. No need to invent silly stories.

  12. Joe
    November 2, 2008 at 2:18 pm #

    Dan,

    Why does this bother you so much? The fact remains that names for the nazarene can and are used as swear words. I have heard many people say “JESUS CHRIST” when they are frustrated with a difficult person, someone who is being unreasonable.

    “May his name be blotted out” seems very fitting in that situation. Its entirely possible that “JESUS CHRIST” has undergone semantic shift as well. If it doesn’t mean “may his name be blotted out”, then what is the possible meaning in the context of a swear word?

    “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus is from a backward place. An insignificant town. Maybe there is a connection here.
    http://www.aumethodists.org/sermons/sermon030119.html

  13. joe
    December 20, 2008 at 9:16 pm #

    Daniel,
    Listen to the following video. Diane Feinstein announces the death of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk. Immediately following that you can hear someone cursing, “JESUS CHRIST”. Demonstrating that it is a curse word.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUB-RCNBDnk

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