A popular new gay party is generating controversy in Vancouver for its use of the word “fag” in the title.
“There are people who have been bashed and bullied and people who have committed suicide because of it [the word fag],” says Jason Athen. “It’s like painting a bull’s-eye on us.”
Athens and his partner, Guy Herrington, have begun a community action group against the use of the name Fag Fridays and what he calls “words of hate” circulating throughout the community.
He says using words like fag “can make some people feel unsafe and vulnerable. We don’t want those that have been victimized to be revictimized by their own people,” he explains.
“I am not a fag,” adds Herrington. “I don’t identify as that.”
Herrington prefers the term gay or LGBT.
The debate first began on the social media site Facebook, after offended community members shared their opposition to the name. “In times like these we should be united and not divided by words,” one Facebooker wrote on the event host’s site. “As a community this whole dilemma can do more harm to our unity.”
But Fag Fridays’ host, DJ Adam Dreaddy, says his party and its name have nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with reclamation and gay empowerment.
“I used the word boldly and didn’t know it would cause this much backlash,” Dreaddy says.
As a gay man, Dreaddy says he uses the word fag without repercussion. “I call my friends queers, homos and little faggots. You try to make light of it,” he says. “You try to own it.”
By taking words that have historically been used against gays and reclaiming them, Dreaddy believes we will eventually lessen their impact. “The word is a weapon,” he says. “You can take that weapon and use it how you want. [But] you have to be careful where you aim that weapon,” he admits.
“I chose to use the word and not let it bother me,” he adds. “If I’m walking down the street with my boyfriend and someone yells ‘faggot!’ I don’t let it bother me. I keep walking. If we let it bother us we’re not moving forward.”
Brandon Gaukel, co-host of the monthly Queer Bash events, can relate to Dreaddy’s experience. When Queer Bash began a year ago, he too experienced a backlash.
Gaukel says he received emails mostly from lesbians concerned about potential violence associated with the name.
“People get upset. People don’t like names and people don’t like words. People don’t understand the intent,” Gaukel says.
“We’re not evil people,” he continues. “I think it [Fag Fridays] is so funny.”
While Gaukel sees humour in Dreaddy’s title, he admits the word fag can still be misconstrued if out of context. “If a straight dude from Chilliwack called me a fag I would be mad,” the Chilliwack native acknowledges.
Athen agrees that context can play a significant role but maintains the word fag holds strong negative connotations for some people in the gay community, too.
“It’s like having a party for the mentally challenged and calling it Retard,” he says.
Athen says he and Herrington met with half a dozen concerned community members on Oct 27 to vent their opposition to the Fag Fridays name. They say they will continue to host group discussions regularly and plan to circulate a petition on Facebook and throughout the community to draw attention to the issue.
They want Dreaddy to consider renaming his event.
But Dreaddy says the name will remain. “I’m not changing the name because I’m not being bullied over my views and how I view the word fag,” he says.