"'Faggot isn't offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays...It's a schoolyard taunt."
Ann Coulter on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, March 5, 2007
"What do you expect from a pig but a grunt?"
Alice Jennings (1925-2002), innumerable occasions
Oh Ann. You've got to be kidding.
My mama, who grew up in rural Tennessee, would always say when hateful people did hateful things or dumb people did dumb things, "what do you expect from pig but a grunt?" i.e. that the behavior was totally predictable and in keeping with what we already knew about the animal. So right-wing commentator Ann Coulter all but called Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot" and now is trying to absolve herself of any wrongdoing. Well, what did you expect?
If I ever lent any credibility to anything Ann Coulter said, I stopped so long ago that I don't remember doing so. She's a professional entertainer who relies on shock value. I don't look to Marilyn Manson or Penn & Teller for insightful political commentary: why would I expect any from her?
But, now that Ms. Coulter has compounded her initial hateful behavior with a denial that ranks with "I didn't inhale" on the "laugh out loud" scale, I have got to respond. On one point she and I do agree: words like the one she alluded to are a common schoolyard taunt, with a 2004 Widmeyer Communications survey finding that 63% of high school students hear it frequently or often at school. Not only do they hear it, many use it: 43% of them admit to using it frequently or often themselves. Boys are about 50% more likely to use it than girls. (Attaboy, Ann!)
The reason that Ms. Coulter's comments are laughable is her ludicrous claim that this language "isn't offensive to gays." She's just flat out wrong - especially when it comes to gay students. The 2005 GLSEN National School Climate Survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students found that two-thirds of them say they are "pretty much" or "extremely" bothered or distressed by hearing phrases like "that's so gay" at school. The pervasiveness of this language explains why about half of LGBT students say "it's hard for people like me to be accepted in my school." The language is offensive, it does bother students who hear it, and it negatively impacts their sense of belonging at school, which is directly linked to increased absenteeism and reduced academic achievement.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is Ms. Coulter's implicit endorsement of schoolyard taunting. She is basically saying that schoolyard bullying is OK (and thus by extension her behavior is OK). As a former teacher, I think this kind of language and behavior has no place in a school as it not only serves no identifiable educational function but also actually impairs the ability of students to learn. Ms. Coulter seems to favor a Darwinian survival of the fittest approach to education, where the big and strong kids have license to mock and hurt their weaker peers. That's not a lesson I want to see the next generation learn, as what young people learn today in school shapes what kind of society they create when they grow up. That's not the kind of society I want to live in or the kind of future I want for America.
I don't expect Ann Coulter to ever get it. But hopefully she has inadvertently helped spotlight the problem in a way that other people will. If she's raised awareness about the need to banish hateful language from our schoolyards, Ann Coulter has done a service to young people everywhere. And there's something I never thought I would say about her.
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