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Wayback Machine

Rainbow Youth's two little words of power
By Jennifer Lorimer of Rainbow Youth
22nd February 2008 - 09:47 pm

Jennifer and Daniel at the Big Gay Out
You may have noticed the bright pink 'Homo!' and 'Lesbo!' leaflets during Auckland's Big Gay Out this year. At an event like the BGO you might not be surprised to find people who identify with these sorts of labels and happily attach the pink card to themselves. It is after all a part of our identity, and it is something many of us wear with pride.

But how many of us know what it is like to be on the other end of the word when it isn't a self-identified label, and instead is used as an insult? My personal experience has shown me that words can be given power in different contexts. For example I am happy to self-identify as a dyke, especially in my more butch moments, though not all people are as happy to identify with the term. Nor do we appreciate it when a complete stranger yells it out from across the road, or walks up to you to announce it to your face. It's never fun to be told you are gay with such venom as many of us have experienced. We reclaim some words, we self-identify and try and take away the power behind them, but that power is not so much in the word but in the intent.

If you read the back of your 'homo!' or 'lesbo!' card you would have realised there was a message, that 46.6% of non-heterosexual students have been physically harmed at least once in the last twelve months.* Just imagine how many of these students also suffer verbal abuse, just think of the amount of heterosexual students who also suffer homophobic slander. How many times have you heard someone refer to something they don't like as 'gay'? This is the sort of culture we live in where an attack on someone's sexuality can become part of popular vernacular? Sometimes I wonder if I am too sensitive to this sort of thing, or perhaps it is that other people have just turned away from the issue. Is it enough to just let the insults roll off our back or should we be fighting for a more tolerant society where gay is not an insult?

The pink flyers that many people snapped up so eagerly for self identity contain words that so often cripple the self-esteem of many youth in our country. Think back and try to remember your youth and what it was like before you came out, before you knew who you were and that you were proud to be a homo. Was it a word that instilled confidence in your identity, or was it a word used to isolate you from the rest of the community, school, and your friends?

I would like to encourage more people to think about the power of words and the power of change. Dig out that bright piece pink of paper and think about the message, because there is a way you can help.

Yes, I am shamelessly trying to get you to fill out the donation side of the card, or perhaps think about sending a text message! But I am also encouraging everyone to think about the power of words and to look beyond the safety of the spaces we carve for ourselves and our community and to look at the wider community.

I also strongly encourage everyone to give anyone calling something 'gay' (to mean 'dumb' or 'useless') a stern telling off.

Take a moment to think about the current situation in our schools, the stories that we hear in the news about the abuse youth are dishing out to each other. Activities like text bullying, as well as physical bullying.

Rainbow Youth is a not for profit organisation working to help support queer youth. Part of their work is going into schools and educating youth, trying to create more understanding and safer environment.

If you still have those bright pink cards, have another look. Or at any time, you can text 'Rainbow' to '883' to make an instant $3 donation. You can also check out Rainbow Youth's website (linked below) for more information on how you can help.

Please remember your youth, and help support our youth.

*Source: Non-heterosexual Youth: A profile of their Health and Well-being. Le Brun, C., Robinson, E. Warren, H., Watson, P.D. (2004)

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