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Volume 72, Issue 106, Tuesday, March 6, 2007


Student's use of 'gay' not meant as hateful 

Zach Lee
Opinion Columnist

In 2002, Rebekah Rice, then a high school freshman, was disciplined for something countless kids, college students and even young professionals have been guilty of at one time or another: She called something "gay."

Her parents sued her school on First Amendment grounds, and a judge plans to issue a ruling on the case in the coming months, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Rice's incident is slightly more complicated than most casual uses of the word "gay" to mean "stupid," "silly" or "dumb" for a couple of reasons. First, in 2001, two boys were paid to beat up a gay student at her California high school, and as a result, administrators felt a crackdown on the word in that context was their responsibility in the quest to protect gay students from harassment.

Just as important is the context in which Rice used the word. Classmates were teasing her about her Mormon upbringing by asking questions such as "Do you have 10 moms?" and Rice responded by saying "That's so gay." So when the school punished her without punishing her classmates, it was using a double standard.

The case hinges on whether or not "That's so gay" is hate speech, and it shouldn't take the legal system to realize it is not. 

It is politically incorrect and maybe even a bit ignorant, but it is not hate speech. If Rice were like most high school freshmen when she had the bad luck of getting caught muttering an American colloquialism, she probably had little to no clue that someone could be hurt by it, and she almost certainly didn't intend it to mean "homosexual."

In the face of entertainer Ann Coulter's decision to use a blatantly anti-gay epithet to describe Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, a young teenager's choice of words in a classroom discussion is both trivial and sobering. 

The people who laughed and applauded the right's blond version of Howard Stern as she crossed the lines of decency at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday are only doing what countless kids and young adults do every day, albeit on a much larger scale. They were approving of a word derived from homosexuality being casually used as an insult.

Kids, even high school freshmen, are rarely accused of being sensitive to the feelings of others, but administrators should educate them about the harm their words can cause instead of punishing them to save face in the court of public opinion.

Rice should be able to go to college and leave the stupid, silly, dumb world of superficial political correctness behind.

Lee, an English/Spanish senior, 
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