Patrick Abboud reports.
How many times have you heard someone say the words “faggot” or “that's so gay” at school or at work? Maybe you've even dropped the F-bomb yourself in 'friendly' banter at the pub or online.
Welcome to the language of “casual homophobia” - otherwise known as slurs that aren't always meant to be harmful, but are often used without thinking of the consequences.
A new website Nohomophobes.com shows the prevalence of "casual homophobia" on Twitter around the world in real-time using four key search terms - "faggot", "no homo", "so gay" and "dyke". The site works via a sophisticated application programming interface (API) that tracks homophobic language on Twitter literally as it happens.
An interactive ticker allows you to view different timeframes and compare the four terms being tracked. If the frequency doesn't shock you enough check out the flood of offensive terms via a continuous scrolling stream of tweets containing any of these terms. Here's one I just pulled out randomly:
“If you wear a seat belt in the backseat, you're a faggot”
Although the site went up in July in test mode as it was being built, its just officially launched around the globe. As you can see in the graphic above the word "faggot" has already been used more than 2.7 million times.
At the time of publishing this article today "faggot" is saturating the Twitter sphere appearing 25,890 times and counting…
“We know that homophobic language remains one of the few socially acceptable forms of discrimination in society. When that goes unchecked it often leads to the isolation, bullying, violence, beating and in many tragic cases suicide of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex (LGBTQI) youth,” says the sites creator, Dr Kris Wells Associate Director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta.
“Words like that's so gay that are used a lot perhaps in schools and amongst younger people - they throw them thrown around without thinking they have any impact - where faggot is just used to mean something stupid or dumb and what we see is that people are becoming so desensitised and fail to recognise that much of this language has a great deal of painful and horrible history behind it,” he says.
Dr Wells has welcomed an overwhelming response to the site with universities, schools and community organisations from across the globe sending requests for permission to use it as an educational tool.
“I've been contacted by professors and faculty members from all over the world who are in awe of what this website is showing. We hope that parents will also use it to talk to their kids about the language they are using at school.”
The launch of this campaign could not be more timely says Mandy Hudson, Manager of Safe Schools Symposium for the Foundation for Young Australians.
“Websites like NoHomophobes.com could provide a useful tool to highlight the use of homophobic language in our society, but we also need to create strategies to continually respond to this,” she says.
The national Safe Schools Symposium brings together for the first time initiatives from organisations around the country tackling discrimination against young GLBTQI Australians.
“The inaugural national Safe Schools Symposium is a first step towards learning from one another and creating an integrated approach across Australia in schools to work on equipping schools, educators, students and governments to create schools that are free of homophobia and transphobia,” says Ms Hudson.
Recent research in Australia shows that young, same-sex attracted people are affected by homophobic language, even if it may not be intended that way.
“People often use the word gay, not even homophobic people. They don't see it as an insult, they're not trying to be insulting, but I'm insulted,” says one student who responded to a questionnaire as part of the Writing Themselves In 3 report by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University.
Dr Wells set up Nohomopobes.com in the hope that people will think twice before they tweet. “This kind of language is offensive, pervasive, it's damaging. I remember seeing a tweet from a young person who saw the website and responded back saying…
“Now you know what my daily reality is like”.
The Safe Schools Symposium will take place in Melbourne on October 20th.
In the audio interview below Dr Wells explains how the site filters work to measure the frequency of the key terms in context to ensure accuracy.