Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Negative Remarks

'That Is So Gay'

It's a casual insult heard in schools everywhere: "That's so gay!"

One teacher says whenever she hears such language in the classroom, she asks, "What was homosexual about it?" Then she uses the moment to discuss the use of slang and derogatory slurs, including racist and sexist language.

"They know in their hearts they are wrong to use that word in that way," a second teacher says. "They just need someone to stop them in their tracks."

Teachers, too, can be the perpetrators, the ones who use the bigoted language, prompting students or other teachers to speak up.

Determine the extent of the problem. As a social science or club activity, survey students about biased language at school: what they hear most often, who they hear it from, how it makes them feel and what they're willing to do about it.

Implement a 'words hurt' campaign. Get students, teachers, counselors and administrators to sponsor an assembly, or a weeklong or yearlong education campaign, about the damaging effect of hurtful words.

Support student mediators — and use peer pressure. Train students in conflict resolution techniques, and ask them to work with peers to marginalize the use of biased language.

Teach tolerance. When slurs are exchanged in the classroom, interrupt whatever lesson is being taught, and start a new one on language, respect and cultural sensitivity.