By: Jessica, a sexuality educator
“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is one of the tools I was taught as a child to help me stand up to the hurtful words that bullies often sling. I remember singing that little ditty (or others like it) and then walking away with my friends, feeling safe and secure. Sometimes the hurtful words came from my friends, they didn’t mean it, somehow the words had become a part of our language and we were kids just looking to be accepted and “cool.” Let’s be honest, the words did hurt me, no matter how many little ditties I sang. When I was young it was easy to avoid the obvious bullies, the kids who weren’t on my side. I grew up in a world before technology, a world before the internet and social media.
As I sit here and reminisce about my childhood, on this day on Twitter the word “fag” has been used 19,043 times, the word “dyke” has been used 1,700 times and the phrase “so gay” has been used 5,313 times and counting…
• “Almost 90% of LGBT students are verbally harassed, 44% are physically harassed and nearly 1/4 are physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation.
• And 2/3 of LGBT students are verbally harassed, 30% are physically harassed and 14% are physically assaulted at school because of their gender expression.”2
Words are often unintentionally hurtful, especially when we are confronted with thoughts, ideas or concepts we may not completely understand, like sexual orientation or gender expression. Sexual orientation refers to the type of sexual, romantic, and/or physical attraction a person feels for another person. Whereas, the way a person dresses, behaves socially, their demeanor is referred to as their gender expression. These might not be terms you are familiar with – regardless it is important to learn more about them so that you understand what your words are actually saying.
Words become a part of our lingo, a part of our slang, but that doesn’t eliminate their power. I wonder how many of those tweets were unintentionally hurtful; I don’t want to wonder how many of them were fully intentional. I have a suggestion—let’s stop singing nursery rhymes; stop being a bystander and start using our words with intention.
• Be a Leader: Say something original.
• Speak up: If you feel safe, let those who behave disrespectfully know that you don’t appreciate it.
• Be a Friend: Support the targets of hurtful words.
• Take Action: Plan an event that will educate others about bullying.
• Learn More at a PPINK education session.