Alex Blaze

Is 'Queer' Offensive? One School Says Yes

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 14, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: bisexual, language, LGBT, queer, school, t-shirts, teen

A Missouri high school has taken up one of our favorite, completely unresolve-able, and inconsequential debates: is the word "queer" offensive?

A bisexual student was sent home for wearing a "queer" T-shirt. He got it at a regional queer youth conference called EQUAL, the school says the word queer is offensive, and the ACLU has taken the student's side. Here's the T-shirt:


I don't see anything wrong with that, of course. I use the word queer like there's no tomorrow and it clearly wasn't meant to be used in a way that incites hate at the school.

I don't agree with the student's reasoning, that the word is being "taken back" - maybe 20 years ago, but today it's barely ever used offensively so to say that someone is challenging a non-existent negative meaning that a whole generation of us never experienced (definitely not any more than with the word "gay") is missing the point. The T-shirt was probably using queer as an umbrella term for the alphabet soup (which certain members of the LGBTTQQIPA community say they find annoying for its longevity, who are often, by sheer coincidence, the same members of the community who refuse to accept "queer").

The student claims gay and straight T-shirts were allowed:

He said other students at the school were allowed to wear anti-gay shirts after the school's Gay-Straight Alliance wore shirts that read: 'Gay - Fine by Me.'

'Kids wore shirts like this that said "Straight - the only thing fine by me".'

Jesse's mother Kelly Smith added: 'School officials didn't ask those students to turn their shirts inside out.'

Putting them side-by-side like that makes the difference between the two camps clear and puts to rest the idea that they both have equal value.

Language, it is a-changin'. The school should consider the intent of the student and the way most people would take the message, and here there isn't anything hateful or violent.

Here's local news coverage, from which the before-jump image was taken.


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James Savik | April 14, 2011 1:02 PM

Those of us of a certain age who grew up in the South will never be comfortable with that word. Southern voices saying that word with venom and hate are part of our nightmares.

Of course there are some in the younger generation that didn't have to bleed because of their sexuality will say take back the word. I say you can have it.

What do you consider the South? I grew up in rural Texas in a small one horse town during the 70s and 80s. I experienced daily abuse being called queer, faggot and any other pejorative you can think of. Even the Baptist preacher, when I was 16 years old, told me I was going to hell for being a queer.

I have learned to accept that word, and now proudly call myself queer. It fully encompasses how I feel I fit into the LGBT community. It describes me as gay, but it also describes my feelings of often feeling weird or odd within the community.

Would it hurt if someone called me queer today? The best answer I can give it would depend on the context, as well as the tone of voice, and body language of the person using the word. If used in the correct context, then yes it would hurt. So would other words. If someone in the correct context called me a Nancy boy (which I haven't heard used in years) it would be painful. Heck, when I was in the Philippines in 1988 it hurt when a street walker in frustration started yelling at me for being a Benny boy (Urban Dictionary has the definition for that).

We all choose how we take the words used in relation to our identity. I'm just glad I was able to work past the shame and humiliation I felt in the word queer, and was able to embrace it as mine.

Keep using the Q-word every way you can imagine, and dream of the day when being queer won't be queer at all.

And James (above), I say to you the equivalent of what I say to some blacks about the occasionally well-used n-word: At least try to get over it --- It's obvious that Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, Randy Newman and Richard Pryor weren't being racist when they used that historically correct word that you want to send into metaphysical non-existence.

HCarr90366 | April 15, 2011 8:35 AM

The term "Queer" indicates abnormality. While I, as a gay male who was raised in the Deep South, abhore the term as indicating I am in some manner abnormal, there are many younger gay persons who prefer the term.

I look forward to the day when we humans will learn to stop using so many differing terms to continuously divide the populace of this earth, accepting the fact we are all a part of one big family of humanity and begin to embrace one another in our uniqueness.

I'm generally in favor of the word - and use it often in posts.

That said, to say its "barely ever used offensively" is ridiculous. Of course it is! And I'm not too sure that rural high school students will be able to distinguish the difference between reclaiming the word as an umbrella term and as a slur.

I can only think of one time I heard it used offensively in school, compared to hundreds and hundreds for "homo," "gay," and "fag." Maybe it's a regional difference - you're from the south and I'm from the north.

I had the same experience in the Pacific Northwest. A friend of mine pointed out that 'Fag' and 'Gay' were daily epithets, but he'd never heard the word 'Queer' used as an insult - and I realized the same was true for me.

@James Savik,
It's not true that the younger generation hasn't bled for our queerness (and transness). I've had peers who, since I was in high school a decade ago, have had things thrown at them, got beat up after school, were raped, commit suicide, and friends of friends who have been murdered. But at least in the instances I know about, queer isn't the word that was being yelled at them.

Ethan Alister | April 15, 2011 2:01 PM

I like "queer." As someone who there are more than 2 sexes, it's always a conflict for me to decide whether to call myself "bisexual" or not. The most appropriate term for my sexuality would be "pansexual" but hardly anyone outside the rainbow community knows what that means. Labels are nice short ways of conveying information about myself so it's silly to have one and then have to explain what it means.

That's why I like "queer." It's broad and inclusive. I usually get funny looks when I respond to the gay or straight question with that word. A lot of the time, the questions end there. People have already either made their assumptions and are content with them, or are too embarrassed to dig any more. I like the latter better. Personally, I'd rather someone only ask if they're interested.

Linguistically, I hear "queer" used as an epithet only for people. (ex: "I heard Danny likes Ricky Martin. What a queer." But not "We have a test on Monday guys that's so queer.") I think here, in south-eastern Canada it's usually considered a noun when used in an insulting fashion. That'd actually make a pretty interesting study though. I would NOT want to be one of the researchers.