When I first started teaching fifteen years ago, kids didn’t label something dumb as gay, or call someone annoying a retard. Back then, they said fag or faggot.

An idealistic newbie from a liberal university at the height of the politically correct movement, I forbade the use of either slur outside my classroom, in the hallway, gymnasium or wherever I happened to be on school grounds. I told my kids that I equated both slurs with the N-word or the S-word (spic). Most of my kids were brown like me, so they got it. They respected me for it. No one should be put down for who they are.

In 2010, most students understand that using the word fag or faggot to make fun of someone is not cool. You only make yourself look bad.

When I left New York for Asia six years ago, the words “retard” and “gay” were becoming popular among students. There were a few incoming freshman at the university I worked at that would use these terms. I’d always tell them the same thing.

“I have a retarded brother.”

“Sorry.” They’d say.

“My sister is gay.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.” They’d say.

I’d then tell them that I didn’t have a mentally disabled brother, but what if I did?

I’d tell them that my sister wasn’t gay, but that I was.

In ten or fifteen years, I don’t think we’ll hear the words gay or retard thrown around as much. Thank God. Making fun of someone because they were born black, brown, gay or with Down Syndrome is low and inappropriate.

Making fun of someone for something that can be helped, like being an ignorant, incurious embarrassment ala Sarah Palin is fine–so long as the jokes don’t pertain to her being a woman. She was born that way. I refuse to believe she was born a dumbass.

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