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Tweets on trial: Website tracks use of homophobic language online
by Lindsay Purchase (from The Record)

Since July of this year, a website called nohomophobes.com has been live-tracking the use of four homophobic words and phrases on Twitter. The site counts the number of times “Faggot,” “No homo,” “Dyke” and “So gay,” to evaluate the prevalence of casual homophobia.

So far, the word “faggot” has been used the most – over three million times and counting. Professor Kristopher Wells at the University of Alberta Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services has been in charge of the project.

“We wanted to find a way to call public attention to the issue of casual homophobia. The idea was to think of innovative ways that we could potentially use social media to help convey this message,” he said.

Wells said he was shocked by the numbers of tweets that came in, which number in the thousands each day.

“These are real live people out there who are tweeting this all over the English-speaking world, showing that almost every second of every day this kind of language is being used,” he stated. “It’s a call to attention, and hopefully a call to action for a lot of people.”

The website has garnered international attention. In addition to the site, there are also posters available to be downloaded and people are encouraged to use #nohomophobes when identifying and interrupting homophobic language use on social media.

Jeremy Dias, who is the executive director for Jer’s Vision, which works toward using education and awareness to diminish discrimination in youth communities, said he was not surprised by the numbers.

He does not believe the problem is getting better.

“If you go to schools in communities where they don’t have dialogue about homophobic or transgender bullying, the problems are just as bad as they were in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” Dias claimed.

He added that if people were more aware of the true meanings and historical context of homophobic language, they might be less inclined to use it. “Dyke,” he explained, was a term which originated in the post-World War era, when men came back to work after the wars. “Bulldyke” was used as an affront to women who wished to remain in the workplace, many of them homosexual.

According to Dias, that is needed to move on from bullying associated with the use of homophobic language is “healthy dialogue and education about it.”

Christopher Owen, a fourth-year English major at Wilfrid Laurier University and the administrator for the Rainbow Centre, was troubled by what he saw on nohomophobes.com.

“I was really upset with it and really hurt,” he expressed. “I found it disgusting.”

While the content was certainly surprising, Owen found that the method was not sufficient to act as a deterrent to the use of homophobic language. He believes that showing the popularity of the phrases may contribute to their use.

“The website needs a clearer explanation of why these words are problematic and how they can be harmful and what these harmful words can lead to,” Owen explained.

Looking at ways to move forward, Owen believes that education and awareness are key components to addressing the issue.

According to Rainbow Centre public relations and marketing coordinator Nephenee Rose, “Sometimes you have to vary your approach,” depending on the context and whether the person is using homophobic terms intentionally or otherwise.

She continued, “Getting really assertive and upfront about it can often shut down any opportunity to learn, because they get defensive.”

Owen added, “It’s better to go up to someone and say do you understand what you’ve just said? Do you understand who you’re hurting? How could you have said that differently so that you don’t oppress anybody?”

For Wells, the website is just a beginning, a way to quantify casual homophobia and draw attention the issue.

“When you don’t interrupt this kind of homophobic language or behaviour when you see it, you’re silence makes you complicit in the act of discrimination,” he said.

It is one step forward in aiming to end bullying, cyber or otherwise, which as the website reveals, continues to impact LGBTQ youth on a daily basis.