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The Gay Voices’ Anti-LGBT Epithet Debate: The Platinum Rule Seems To Apply

Image: Autumn SandeenI’m one who completely agrees with the premise of GLAAD’s tag line: Words and Images Matter. Currently, GLAAD is combating the anti-LGBT language used by 80’s Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron. Cameron referred to LGBT people as “unnatural,” “detrimental,” and “ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” Cameron is identified as a born-again Christian.

The Bible has scriptures that spell out what we commonly now refer to as the golden rule. Two New Testament scriptures come to my mind describing the concept of the golden rule, and those are Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. The text, respectively:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.


Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

I once had a Christian describe to me what he described as the platinum rule, which would be one step beyond the golden rule:

Where it’s possible and not harmful to yourself, treat others as they want to be treated.

There seems to be an undercurrent here of Don’t be cruel to others, but instead be thoughtful and kind. So, when it comes to terms that GLAAD identifies as derogatory and demeaning, I take the side of GLAAD.

And, I take the side of the National Center for Transgender Equality‘s (NCTE’s) Mara Keisling.

Over at The Huffington Voice‘s Gay Voices, there is a debate set up between Randall Jenson (“Executive Director, SocialScope Productions; creator, 50Faggots“) and Mara Keisling in debate style webpage entitled Mara Keisling And Randall Jenson Debate If LGBT Community Should Use Words Like ‘Faggot’ And ‘Tranny’ . There’s also commentary over at The Advocate by Michael Lucas (“the creator of Lucas Entertainment, one of the largest studios producing all-male erotica“) entitled Op-ed: What’s the Appropriate Word for This Column?.

You can read the commentaries by Jensen and Lucas regarding what they both see as political correctness gone amok, and that we should be less sensitive to terms that the GLAAD Media Reference Guide identifies as dehumanizing and defaming (i.e. “faggot,” “dyke,” and “tranny”). Although Lucas seems to make an exception for how he approaches use of the term “tranny,” Jensen doesn’t — to a certain extent he takes the same tact on anti-LGBT epithets as Ru Paul has a habit of doing.

To my friend Mara, it came down to this:

To be honest, I don’t come to this debate very critically. I bring only the don’t-be-cruel rule.

Certainly, many people, in every marginalized community, use these words and have every right to do so, but many others are really hurt by them. When you use these words — whether you are a member of the community or not — some people are hurt. Some people will see you as being cruel regardless of whether you think you have a good theoretical or political reason for doing so.

We know that “tranny” is often used to degrade trans people and is frequently spit out as hate during anti-trans violence. And we know that continuing stereotypes of trans people as “not real” women or men do real damage to society and to real people. Most importantly, though, when you use it and other words like this, some people will feel intense hurt, fairly to you or not.

Sara Gilbert, who played a daughter of Rosanne on the 90’s sitcom Rosanne, had this to say about Kirk Cameron’s comments on the CBS show The Talk. Her comments on the Kirk Cameron situation seem relevant to this discussion of anti-LGBT terms:

You really have to think about who you are hurting … the kids out there who aren’t OK with who they are,” Gilbert says. “In lesbian, gay, and transgender youth, the suicide attempt rate is 30 to 40 percent, and those kids hearing that message. … He just needs to think about that.

I find it noteworthy that Jenson’s, Lucas’s, and Ru Paul’s commentary on anti-LGBT terminology are commentaries made by three adult male voices in the film and entertainment field. My friend Mara is speaking on anti-LGBT terminology as a adult female Executive Director of a civil rights organization working for the civil rights of a marginalized population.

To me, I would have like to see The Huffington Voice‘s Gay Voices and The Advocate telephone Andy Marra, the Public Relations Manager of GLSEN, and/or Kim Pearson, the Executive Director of TYFA, and ask these women to weigh in this discussion of anti-LGBT words. Perhaps we could even ask some LGBT youth who are leaders at their own schools’ GSAs. With the bullying of our community’s youth in mind, I believe we’d see a different kind of response if we’d have asked the questions regarding anti-LGBT epithets to community leaders who work with, or are, LGBT youth.

In my mind, we’re having the wrong discussion. The question shouldn’t be whether or not we accept the use of anti-LGBT words within community, but instead should be asking the question what is the impact of the continued use of anti-LGBT words on our most vulnerable LGBT subpopulations, such as on our community’s bullied youth.

Instead of accepting societal use of anti-LGBT epithets of community members, instead of using anti-LGBT epithets to refer to each other, I’d wish we’d consider not only the platinum rule, but we’d consider the words of Cesar Chavez:

The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.

To me, embracing humiliating anti-LGBT epithets often means cooperating with the humiliating.

And then there is the definition of our community’s job by Bayard Rustin in his essay From Montgomery To Stonewall:

[T]he job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.

Controlling the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment means that we begin by respecting each other — especially in the language we use towards each other — and then we demand respect from those who wish to cause us harm with words and action. We should reject that which Mara Keisling rightly describes as cruelty towards others because we should value each other’s humanity. And, because we then would have our example of respectful behavior as a point where we could begin demanding respect from those in broad society around us who would deny us ordinary equality.

In my opinion, we shouldn’t be using terms we know are understood to be dehumanizing and defamatory when we talk to, and about each other in our broad, LGBT community. Words and images matter: when we embrace The Platinum Rule, we show by example the simple truth that treating others with decency and respect matters.

What I believe what’s at stake in this terminology debate is human dignity. If a human being isn’t accorded respect, then that person can’t be reasonably expected to respect him-, her-, or hirself. And if that person doesn’t respect him-, her-, or hirself, then that person can’t demand respect. And to me, that’s expecially true regarding our community’s youth.

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Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen