Words, Labels and Respect
EACH OF US RESPONDS in our own way to words. Some of us pick apart every nuance of a sentence and analyze every word choice to determine exactly what is meant by the speaker. The phrase “reading between the lines” comes to mind. Others let most words roll off their backs. The simple fact though is that words affect each of us in some way.
Think about your angriest moment. I would be willing to bet it starts with something along the lines of, “I got into an argument with someone because they said I…”
Now let’s think about the times we have tried to make people mad. Sure, there were probably instances when we kissed someone we shouldn’t have or “borrowed” something without asking, but I would be willing to bet that nine times out of 10, it all came down to us running our mouths with the intent of hurting someone else’s feelings.
Every community has slurs that are used against its members on a regular basis. The LGBTQ community is painfully familiar with that. We have some options though to change the game. It is up to us to take the power out of those words.
The most common way to take the power out the slurs that are hurled against us is an awareness campaign. A few years ago, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) started the Think B4 You Speak Campaign aimed at educating people about the harmful effects of using the phrase “That’s so gay” or any derivative of it. According to thinkb4youspeak.com, “the goal (of the campaign) is to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for LGBT teens.”
The people at GLSEN knew the only way to change the mentality that it was acceptable to use the word” gay” in place of “dumb” or “ugly” or “stupid” was to put it into a perspective that people could understand and ask them if they knew what they were saying when they said, “That’s so gay.”
We are not the only community faced with such a problem. The special needs community deals with a similar situation as well. Every day, numerous members of our human family are relegated to a lower place in society by “the r word.” The simple fact that these people were born with a developmental disability makes some people think that they are a lesser class of person.
Intellectual and developmental disabilities come in many forms and affect people in all walks of life. People in every corner of the world are affected by any number of developmental challenges, from autism and Down Syndrome to dyslexia and ADHD. The problem is that people who throw around “the r word,” don’t take the time to learn the differences between these challenges. They don’t see the individual behind the label and what all they have to offer.
It seems to me that the LGBTQ community has something in common with the special needs community that many of us have probably never thought about. We know firsthand what it feels like to be slapped with a label that doesn’t really apply to us.
I know many people think that “retarded” is “just a word” and “how much harm could it really cause?” I would call on my LGBTQ brothers and sisters to stop and answer that question for themselves and consider how much easier it would be to use a word that is actually appropriate. It is our job as human beings to make the world a better place for the rest of our human family. A good place to focus our energies would be for us to “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
LEARN MORE: r-word.org & glsen.org