The Word ‘Fag’ Makes An Impression

Former NBA player John Amaechi

Listening to the breathless coverage of the NBA finals, I can’t seem to forget the “fag” incident.

Who says it’s “harmless” for basketball stars like Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah to call other guys fags? On national TV?

Actor Isaiah Washington got fired from Grey’s Anatomy for calling co-star T.R. Knight a fag. Like Kobe and Noah, Washington said he didn’t really mean it. (Ironically, Washington has been represented by openly gay publicist Howard Bragman.)

When you call somebody a fag or a dyke, it’s meant to demean the person or assert power over them, like most forms of bullying. Anybody who’s spent time around school kids knows that “fag” is a favorite slur.

Former NBA player John Amaechi wrote this about Kobe’s “mistake”:

“Many people balk when L.G.B.T. people, even black ones, suggest that the power and vitriol behind another awful slur — the N-word — is no different from the word used by Kobe. I make no attempt at an analogy between the historical civil rights struggle for blacks in the United States with the current human rights struggle for L.G.B.T. people, but I can say that I am frequently called both, and the indignation, anger and at times resignation that course through my body are no greater or less for either. I know with both words the intent is to let me know that no matter how big, how accomplished, philanthropic or wise I may become, to them I am not even human.”

The phrase “not even human” sounds a bit extreme, but I do believe the words are meant to degrade. Which sums up a truth in American society: African Americans and gays are not considered whole American citizens.

People privileged enough to have all their rights often say, “OK, we know you’re gay, just shut up about it, we don’t need to hear it.”

But silence just makes it easier to pretend that LGBT people and injustice don’t exist.

It’s interesting that those same people are typically the ones who take it for granted that they can prattle on about their lives, families, and what they have planned for the weekend, but they expect a gay person to “just shut up about it?”

The bottom line: To dismiss verbal abuse from the Kobe Bryants, Joakim Noahs and Isaiah Washingtons of the world is unacceptable in a society that is based on equality. For people to say that it’s “no big deal” is to say that the people targeted aren’t important enough to worry about it.