Tuesday, August 4, 2009
As of this week, there are more than 154,000 websites with the phrase “That’s so gay.”
“That’s so gay” – an expression of anti-LGBT sentiment that is so pervasive that it’s found its way into some people’s every day speech, onto the playground, into creative public service announcements designed to encourage people to “think before you speak”…and into virtual communities as well.
Shortly after Facebook was new and novel, a student came to my office concerned about a Facebook group she had accidentally discovered. Its title, description, and other features used copious amounts of anti-LGBT slurs. It was a group of her fellow Ithaca College students, and it concerned her. As she explained, though she herself is straight she felt it demeaned others, demeaned our campus, and demeaned society.
Instances of derogatory anti-LGBT language can now also easily be found in blogs, social networking sites, online gaming, networked PC games, and even in reviews for new apps. Users can, publicly and anonymously, pan an app, put down a site, post an offensive YouTube video, and directly bully or threaten another player using homophobic slurs - in real time.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) just hosted an event focusing on this issue, headed up by Ithaca College alumnus Justin Cole ’04, GLAAD’s Director of Digital & Online Media. He first wrote an opinion piece for a popular gaming website titled The Impact of Homophobia in Virtual Communities, and invited readers to post their questions, comments and reactions, from which to draw for the event.
The event - Homophobia in Virtual Communities: Highlighting the Problem and Working Towards Sustainable Solutions - featured a specially created video with examples from real, publicly available online content, followed by a panel discussion of gamers, industry professionals, and media experts – folks from Electronic Arts, Microsoft's XBox LIVE program, the founder of GayGamer.net, and other leaders in the field. The forum provided opportunities to explore the problem, as well as things companies can do to address or reduce such behavior and to create gay-friendly games, too.
Also noted at the event – a 2006 University of Illinois survey of gay gamers that found:
- 52.7 percent said the gaming community is "somewhat hostile" to gay and lesbian gamers; an additional 14 percent said it is "very hostile"
- 87.7 percent reported hearing the phrase, "That's so gay," used by players
- 83.4% reported hearing players use the words "gay" or "queer" as derogatory names.
- being out in the industry
- how the use of anti-LGBT slurs makes gaming less fun for everyone
- portrayals of LGBT characters in games and issues of marketing an LGBT character/game
- whether virtual worlds differ from other communities regarding dealing with homophobia
- opportunities for engagement around this issue.
One reason people create, contribute and participate in virtual communities - and live, work and play in them - is because it’s fun. Be creative. Be original. Use your vocabulary. Describe what you like or do not like. Say things to psych out live gaming opponents in the spirit of strategy, competition and goodwill. And do it without resorting to name-calling and putdowns as a short hand for things you do not like.
A reviewer that says an app “is for homos” doesn’t really tell me much – should I download it immediately because it has vital gay secrets I ought to know…or is the anonymous poster being a lackluster, uncreative coward? Hard to know – and there’s a big difference.
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