A derogatory comment aimed at sexual and gender minorities is posted to social media site Twitter almost every second of every day.
This is demonstrated on the newly launched website, www.nohomophobes.com, which tracks the usage of “faggot,” “so gay,” “dyke” and “no homo” on Twitter in hopes of eliminating the comments from everyday dialogue.
“We wanted to come up with a way to help educate people on the use of casual homophobia, which is this kind of language that people throw around without thinking it has any meaning,” said Dr. Kristopher Wells, doctoral researcher with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services.
He said it is important for people to understand that these words have power and can lead to isolation, bullying, hate crimes and even suicide amongst the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGTBQ) community.
Since the website launched Wednesday, it has garnered worldwide attention, largely the result of the “staggering” number of derogatory tweets. On any given day, these phrases pop up more than 60,000 times.
“I’m shocked,” Wells said. “I thought we’d get a couple hundred per day. You can’t even keep up with them on the screen.”
Although the website tracks usage on the online community, Wells said it is just as popular in offline communities — schools and boardrooms included.
Krysta Wosnack, counsellor at Bellerose Composite High School and facilitator of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance says homophobic language is present in society.
“It’s out there for sure,” she said. “I know that right now, the biggest forum that I’ve seen is social media.”
Twitter, in particular, is a popular medium where casual homophobia is being used and she said it can have a profound effect on youth.
“I think, already, it’s that kind of time in their lives when they’re finding themselves, so they don’t feel comfortable or confident,” she said. “To have something like this … it’s devastating to a lot of them. It affects their self esteem, it affects their self confidence and it creates a lot of depression-type symptoms.”
Wells said the website is meant to show the collective impact of homophobic language in society opposed to targeting individual tweeters and is meant to be a catalyst for discussion on the impact of discrimination, prejudice and hate.
The project encourages social media users to include the hashtag #NoHomophobes in their tweets to spread awareness and show support for the crusade to abolish casual homophobia.
“We’re asking people to think before you speak, or think before you tweet,” he said.
The use of homophobic language has increased as a result of social media, Wells said, adding people add it to their lexicon because they do not directly see who it is hurting.
“It’s this kind of casual homophobia that’s keeping our star athletes in the closet, afraid to come out. It’s keeping kids feeling isolated and alienated from supports and in some cases, from their own family,” Wells said. “It’s also this kind of language that turns from words to actions to hate crimes.”