Teacher out to ban pupils' use of 'gay'

AMANDA FISHER
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2011
Kevin Duindam, Monique Hodgkinson and Helen Ker
CHRIS SKELTON/The Dominion Post
ALL ABOUT THE CONTEXT: High School pupils Kevin Duindam, Monique Hodgkinson and Helen Ker say banning pupils from saying "gay" is not a good idea.
WARREN BOWERS: Says the use of the word gay as a derogatory  term is hurtful.
THE DOMINION POST
WARREN BOWERS: Says the use of the word gay as a derogatory term is hurtful.

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A Kiwi teacher is on a mission to ban the word "gay" from pupils' everyday speech.

Warren Bowers, a primary school teacher who has done his masters degree on homosexuality in education, said New Zealand children and teenagers seemed to use "gay" as a negative colloquial term more than pupils in other countries.

"Quite often teachers just ignore it ... teachers will pull kids up on using sexist language, they'll pull kids up on using racist language ... but if kids use that word 'gay' ... quite often, they'll just let it slide."

However, Victoria University linguistics professor Laurie Bauer said he doubted a ban would have much effect. Despite common use of racist terms being eliminated, racism still existed.

Mr Bowers, who is gay, said it was hard enough coming out as homosexual, without the negative connotations associated with the word.

He decided to research the subject after an eight-year-old girl in one of his classes, with lesbian parents, came to him upset after her classmates used the expression gay "as a bad thing".

Mr Bowers talked to pupils in his class and explained the word could be hurtful, and has since had a ban against it in his classes.

"It does need to be explained that homophobic language is not OK ... it's kind of a last bastion of accepted prejudice."

Many teachers were probably unaware of the impact of the word, he said. Although most people used it without intending it to be offensive, "it is offensive and it does hurt people's feelings".

Professor Bauer said he had visited about 30 primary schools throughout the country about 10 years ago and had noted the prevalence of the word "gay".

"It was very, very noticeable at that point."

The usage, which "didn't seem to have much to do with [homosexuality]", had been around for at least five years before that in the United States, he said.

"'Gay' has meant so many different things, its history is really quite amazingly complicated."

Chris Carter, a gay former education minister and now an independent MP, said it was important that teachers began thinking about the appropriateness of pupils using the word gay in class.

'IT'S JUST A FINE WORD'

High School pupils Kevin Duindam, 17, left, Monique Hodgkinson, 17, and Helen Ker, 16, reckon their school is liberal and tolerant, but banning pupils from saying "gay" is not a good idea.

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All year 13 pupils, they conceded they used "gay" from time to time to describe things that were boring or uncool.

It's so accepted into our society, it's just a fine word," Kevin said.

Monique said there was a difference to the context in which it was used.

"It's not good if someone is using it as an offensive word to someone ... but if you're just talking about if the teacher gives you extra homework, that shouldn't be as bad."

Helen said it would be difficult to ban the word without also banning others such as "lame" or "retarded".

All three agreed that people should be more conscious of what the word meant and be mindful about who was around when it was used.

They said about 15 of their 200 form-mates were openly gay.

Principal Prue Kelly said if she or other teachers heard pupils using the word negatively, they would ask what exactly was meant, to try to get pupils to think about what they were saying.

Banning it would probably be counter-productive and would give an incentive to use it.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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