Not “So Gay” and Dialogue Across Differences


From our @NaropaPeace Twitter feed I noticed that actor Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) stood out as an ally against hate speech in its most prevelant everyday form yesterday. One of his 300,000 fans wrote to him in response to an event happening in his life that he should stop being “so gay. ”

Kutcher promptly replied “can we just get clear, calling some one ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ is as derogatory as calling someone a ‘ni**er’. U look like an idiot when you do it.” Knowing many young people look up to Kutcher, and while I wouldn’t call someone an idiot to help facilitate their learning, hearing this from a celebrity makes an impact. What could make this a private everyday conversation became a ringing teachable moment for those 300,000 people…and the AP press wire…and the handful of magazines that picked up this tweet as a feature story. While a celebrity saying something shouldn’t ‘t be the sole reason something for its validity, this particular message is continually important until derogatory hate speech is no longer being used. We know that language affects action and more often than not hate speech can escalate into physical violence.

While it is still a stretch to call the new platforms of web 2.0 a process of intentional dialogue, they are dynamic forms of communication that, so far, do help address how we can better deal with difference and power in our society through transparent communication. In Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, William Issacs introduces a dynamics explanation of dialogue from David Kantor. Kantor believes that good communication begins with understanding the roles and tools being used to create order in the communication. He describes how we all at some point may be a Mover, Follower,  Bystander or Opposer.

Movers prompt an action.
A water cooler moment arises at a homework gathering. Person A begins to tell the story of a weekend vacation but decides they should get back to homework.

Followers support and encourage movers.
Person B encourages A to say more about their vacation and agrees that they all need one. “Jokingly” person B states that “it’s so gay” to do homework rather than have some fun. Person A laughs and begins to tell the story again beginning with a surf dock.

Opposer addresses inconsistency or sees something off
Person C calls out person A and B and questions why they have to make their stories and interests more important by trivializing another group of people. Person B says they’re only kidding and it’s just words, begins to propose a a move story about a gay friend who was also on the trip.

Bystander offers alternative perspective
Person D addresses A, B and C and notices that when person B tried to become a Mover by changing the topic to a friend and thus and remove responsibility from the point C was making it feels further hurtful and disrespectful to the group as well as gay individuals. Perhaps all could consider that their language and stories could be shared without derogatory speech as well as noticing that when challenged by friends they could also be mindful of fully hearing what their need was before excusing themselves.  Person A now becomes a Follower and supports that D has offered a bit of perspective to the group.

Kantor states that all roles are equally important and continually evolve and switch for each person at any time during a conversation.

What do you think? Do you see these in your conversations in daily life?

So today, I come away with Twitter informing us that @aplusk was a helpful Opposer and Bystander that leaves me yet another good lesson and reminder to speak up in my daily life or online when something hurtful is being said. While it can be difficult and not always as simple as the above role play, especially with whole countries or groups, the discomfort of honest dialogue brings great strength as well and I think deepens our humanity and ability to see one another. Disagreement and conflicts of thoughts does not have to mean rejection of personal relationships, simply reveals understanding of one another and our differences.

And for fun, I leave you with some entertaining dialogues with comedian Wanda Sykes and actress Hilary Duff apart of  GLSEN’s Think Before You Speak Campaign.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) joined with The Advertising Council today to launch the first national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to address the use of anti-gay language among teens. The campaign launch coincides with the release of GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey, which found that nearly nine in ten lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens report having been verbally harassed in the past school year, and almost half have been physically harassed because of their sexual orientation.


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