If being queer is the punchline, then we’re not laughing

Tyler Brandt was forced to wear a nametag that read ‘gaytard’ while working at Taco John’s in Yankton, South Dakota. Brandt quit the day after, and has filed a discrimination charge with the South Dakota Department of Labor. (Source: ACLU)

Firstly, I cannot believe we are still talking about this.

On Sept. 24, a teacher in British Columbia wrote “I’m gay, LOL” on a sticker and stuck it on a student’s back. A witness said that they “didn’t think anything of it” because “we always mess around with the teacher and he messes back … he’s friendly.” Thankfully, despite his supposedly friendly nature, he was suspended by his school board – only for another to pick him up, across the provincial line in Alberta.

How I wish this was the only incident, but this past summer, a teenager  working at a fast food restaurant in South Dakota was forced to wear a nametag that read “GAYTARD” in front of customers. The manager assured the media that the incident was blown out of proportion and that “they were all joking around” and that the boy “wanted a nickname. [Gaytard is] what he picked for a nickname,” according to CBC News.

It is so, so easy to hide behind the defense of ‘joking around.’ Starting in elementary school, playful camaraderie is the number one defense for poor behaviour. You were able to push someone down, grind their face into the dirt, do god knows what, and it was okay because you were “just playing.”

So, to those who think this is just a joke, I will explain to you a concept most five-year-olds are able to comprehend: it’s not playing if not everyone is having fun.

Tyler Brandt was forced to wear a nametag that read ‘gaytard’ while working at Taco John’s in Yankton, South Dakota. Brandt quit the day after, and has filed a discrimination charge with the South Dakota Department of Labor. (Source: ACLU)

According to witness accounts in the B.C. case, the student was not only visibly upset, but was being pointed at, laughed at, and had pictures taken of him until he finally left the room. In South Dakota, the teenager quit the very next day, and has filed a charge of discrimination with the South Dakota Department of Labor. Do those sound like the actions of people who were in on the joke?

This is simply bullying. Horrible, discriminatory bullying – and I cannot believe that we, as a society, still need articles written explaining why this isn’t okay.

I have seen comments online saying that these cases are not discriminatory at all, because the term gay isn’t an insult anymore. Of course, no one should be ashamed of being gay (or anywhere on the queer spectrum). But these kinds of “jokes” reinforce the idea that being gay is something to be ridiculed. You wouldn’t write “I’m left-handed, LOL” and slap it on someone’s back for a joke, because there is nothing abnormal or demeaning about being left-handed.

Behaviour like this is especially dehumanizing if the people in question are in some way queer. It reconfirms their darkest fears: that if they come out, they are different – something to be ostracized and ridiculed.

If they are queer, do they deserve to be outed by a teacher who needs validation from teenagers to show that he’s “cool?” Would you want the fact that you’re gay publicly announced every time you have to do your job? Of course not.

This goes out to the people who use derogatory language as “jokes,” too. If you say “that’s so gay,” or use a certain F-word to refer to someone who may or may not be queer, then you are part of the problem. I do not care if your one gay friend said it’s okay. Words carry meaning, and every time you use that language, you reaffirm being queer as negative trait. You validate those who truly do believe that being queer is something worthy of shame.

Simply put, you are no better than either of these men. Period.

And if you think the struggles of today’s queer community are a joke, then guess what:

No one’s laughing.

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