By HEATHER FITZ
At a party last weekend, I had an encounter that made me angry, sad, and kind of proud of myself. My partner of seven years, April, and I attended the housewarming party of Linda, the amazing woman who is renting our house downtown. The backyard was lit up, a fire pit burned and a talented guitarist played on the porch. When we arrived, none of our friends were there yet, so I did what I always do and struck up a conversation with someone I didn’t know, a guy who passed by me to get a beer out of the cooler. As soon as he picked it up, I joked, “Hey! I was gonna drink that one next!”
He laughed, turned and introduced himself, “I’m Adam.”
“I’m Heather. Nice to meet you.”
Adam, I realized very quickly, was D-R-U-N-K. But it was a party, and I didn’t care. I learned he was a friend of a friend who didn’t know Linda, but was invited to come along to the party.
We talked football and disagreed on our feelings about Michael Vick and his dog scandal. As I was trying to figure out my exit strategy, he asked me about college football. I told him I was an FSU graduate and Seminoles fan.
“Ugh,” he said. “I hate Seminole fans. Worst fucking fans in the world! Worse than Alabama, Georgia and Miami!”
“Why do you say that,” I asked.
He proceeded to tell me a story about attending an FSU/Virginia Tech game once where he witnessed three drunk guys harass a man and his daughter after the game. It sounded like a bad scene, so I said: “You know, that was terrible. But every school has rowdy, obnoxious fans. I don’t agree with what they did, but you can’t attribute their behavior to the entire Seminole fan base.”
He replied, “They were fucking assholes. Seriously, a bunch of goddamn FAGGOTS.”
I felt the earth move under my feet and my expression froze. He read my reaction correctly, and said, laughing: “I probably shouldn’t say that word too loudly.”
“No, no you shouldn’t. You should never say it — especially when you are talking to someone who is gay.”
The look of shock and surprise on his face was unmistakable. I’ve been told that most people would not peg me as gay and clearly he had no idea.
He fumbled around for words for a few seconds and then said, “It’s just a word. I mean, do you know its origin? I was a history major, so I can tell you.”
“It’s not just a word. You used it to describe people who you just finished saying were degenerates, losers and assholes.”
He stumbled away and I found myself incredulous at the slur. Yes, he was drunk, but frankly, drunk people say more freely what they really feel and believe. But lots of sober people throw the word around too, to describe people they don’t like, would like to do harm to, want to make fun of, etc.
It’s a slur. It hurts and it is not acceptable.
I was proud of myself for confronting him and even prouder of Linda and her boyfriend — when upon hearing about the incident (I didn’t tell them, someone else who overheard it did) — asked Adam to leave given his disrespect of their gay friends.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and believe we need to continue to stand up and say something when we hear “faggot” or “queer” thrown around. Young gay kids are hanging themselves because elementary school kids want to play “Smear the Queer” or because they like theater instead of football.
As gay adults, sometimes it feels easier to ignore the comments rather than confront them. We need to. And more importantly, if you aren’t gay, but hear the slur, I would hope you too would say something. Because if you love me, you know my heart and that when someone uses the slur, they are inferring gay people are all the things Adam spoke of.
Imagine the impact if straight people who overheard such slurs stood up and said: “I have a sister, mother, brother, niece, nephew, friend, cousin who is gay and when you use that word, you offend not only them, but me, because s/he is an amazing person. I hear you say that the person you are talking about is not a person of quality, but you can make that point without using the slur.”
I know it’s not comfortable, but it’s worth it.
Heather Fitz is a self-employed marketing consultant based in Fredericksburg, Va. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.