An email has been sent to Merton’s JCR by their LGBTQ rep, condemning the use of the terms ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ as insults.
The JCR exec member, second year English student Alex Beecham, said in the email: “Recently, I have personally heard or been told by others about Mertonians using ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ as an insult or term of deprecation. Suffice to say I won’t go into the many different reasons why this is unacceptable other than to say that it creates an extremely unpleasant atmosphere and contributes to people feeling as though their existence is being policed, from their clothes to the way they walk or speak, regardless of whether or not they’re actually gay. Don’t be the gender police.”
He added: “If you really want me to explain to you why ‘but gay just means happy’, among other responses, fails as a justification, you are welcome to speak to me.”
Tom Dyer, a second year French and Classics student at the college, commented: “I have heard a few people using ‘gay’ in that way this year, definitely more than last year, mainly when we’re out in town/in queues for clubs, that kind of thing. Even though it hasn’t been very frequent this year in my experience, it’s still always surprising to hear, because there was nothing like that last year.
He continued: “It’s important to stop this kind of casual behaviour before it can become accepted and ingrained. It’s obviously completely unacceptable to use ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ as a derogatory term in any context: I find it usually comes from people who think they are cool.”
When asked about the issue, Beecham was keen to stress Merton’s ethos of inclusion and tolerance, saying: “I had heard or been told of Mertonians using the words ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ in the context of insult or deprecation and was concerned to make it clear that this sort of language is unacceptable[…]I would like to point out, however, that upon arriving at Oxford in my first year, I noticed and was gladdened by the absence of ‘gay’ being used in this sort of discriminatory context, and, at least in my experience, these incidents were very much exceptions which should become less and less common.”
He further stated: “In my experience of the university as a whole, Merton is one of the best colleges in terms of providing a safe and welcoming environment for students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Daniel Bregman, a third year mathematician, and the college’s LGBTQ rep last year, commented: “Homophobic language is generally a topic in which no news is good news, but even the best of us can accidentally slip. Alex’s gentle email was just the right sensible and unremarkable reminder that people should think about what’s important before they speak, write or publish. In my experience Merton has always been a fantastic and welcoming environment with no problems worth writing about.”