Words matter because they tell people who you think they are and how they should be perceived by others. If you say negative things to or about someone, it influences how we see each other and ourselves. Words normalize behavior in ways that have deep and lasting effects.
Who is “the other”? They are the people you call names or gossip about. They and we are the people who are called out for their differences. They and we are people with differences who are judged to be wrong. “The other” includes our LGBTQ community.
People who make fun of others are making a statement about their differences. Instead of celebrating our diversity, it ends up being hurtful. You might think at the time that you are just “joking,” but there are plenty of ways to be fun without doing so at someone else’s expense. Because we are different from you, because we are LGBTQ, we are not a joke.
When I first learned about people who are “the other,” I learned that “the other” are those who are “perceived as fundamentally different because of their differences in class, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, and more.” I felt outraged. I thought, what must it feel like to be in someone else’s shoes other than my own?
You might ask yourself, are you also judged for your differences? Do you treat people differently because of their differences? What are all the things that make you different? We hope you celebrate them. We are all the same, and we are all different. It is those differences that make us unique and special.
When we use hurtful and discriminatory language, we tell others, I matter more than you do. We will never be able to control people’s behaviors, or the words they say, but we can control our own. If we choose to set an example by using words that celebrate our diversity we can be a powerful example and encourage others to do the same. When we don’t, we contribute to the harmful effects that we, our families and our friends experience. Words lead to violent deeds; they destroy our trust in one another. We can do better.
Words don’t just hurt, they make others feel unsafe. They are used by bullies to demonstrate their power over us. The real power belongs to all of us if we speak up, choose not to be a bystander, and embrace our differences with the words we use.
Josie Moes, Cash Groninga, Azure Wynne and Sara McLaughlin are 6th graders at Anser Charter School in Garden City.