The Gateway (University of Alberta)
EDMONTON (CUP) — The word “faggot” has been tweeted nearly three million times since July 5.
A new website from the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services called nohomophobes.com tracks the tweets of people using the phrases “faggot,” “no homo,” “so gay” and “dyke” — all of which are tweeted well over 1,000 times a day.
Since the site’s launch, “no homo” has been tweeted over one million times, “so gay” has been mentioned nearly 100,000 times and the term “dyke” comes in just shy of appearing in 400,000 tweets.
Kristopher Wells, assistant professor and associate director for U of A’s ISMSS, launched the website on Sept. 26 to address what he calls “casual homophobia.”
Within days, the website had hundreds of thousands of hits. And as word began to spread, so did Wells’ message: it is time to stop tolerating homophobic language.
“This kind of casual homophobia is just no longer acceptable in our society. And that’s the primary objective of our campaign, to call attention and ultimately extinguish the use of these harmful words,” he said.
“People need to stand up and account for their own conduct. We can’t make people change, but what we can do is try to raise that critical awareness to help them think twice before they use this kind of language.”
The most common use of casual homophobia, according to the website’s convenient ticker, is the word “faggot.”
“That’s not a word that’s used in too many positive contexts,” Wells said.
Wells says the website is designed to show the casual usage of homophobic words in society.
“We know that the use of homophobic language still remains one of the few acceptable forms of discrimination in our society,” he said.
“It’s happening virtually every second of every day. You can’t even keep up with the number of tweets that are scrolling through the website. And that website is pulling in tweets from all over the English-speaking world, so it’s not just Alberta and it’s not just Canada or the United States.”
The website is designed to show all tweets carrying those key phrases, but Wells acknowledges context matters — something the website can’t track.
“Context matters — it always matters. That old nursery rhyme your parents used to tell you, that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is wrong. Words do hurt. Words have the power to shape identities,” he said.
“We don’t accept the fact that these words are harmless. What these words do, no matter who’s using them, is serve to reinforce stereotypes that are used as powerful weapons to defile and further marginalize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
He added that an overwhelming majority of feedback so far has been positive — so much so that other groups have approached him asking to add sexist and racist terms, as well as terms discriminating against people with disabilities.
“I think people have seen the power of this kind of innovative campaign that blends together social media and public education,” he said.
“It’s surprising that a little website made here in Alberta, which some have often called the Texas of the North, with very conservative social values, could generate this kind of worldwide interest.”
Wells said there are plans for a television commercial to support the website and for posters to be hung in bus shelters and transit stations around Edmonton.
“They all serve the same purpose — to get people to the website to engage in conversation. It’s breaking the silence around these issues and talking about the impacts of casual homophobia that will end it,” he said.