Dear celebs, tweeting the word ‘gay’ isn’t radical

OPINION: Florida’s homophobic “Don’t Say Gay Bill” won’t be fought by tweeting the word “gay”

Celebrities continue to show us that many of them don’t really know how to be activists.

That much was clear in the wake of Florida passing its controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill this week (Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to sign off on it soon). The legislation has garnered international headlines and will see the discussion of gender identity and sexuality—specifically about queer and trans people—outright banned in primary schools. During the lead-up to the bill’s passing, proponents explicitly compared LGBTQ2S+ education to “grooming,” with one senator going so far as to suggest being gay “isn’t permanent.” 

But the approach a lot of famous people are taking isn’t … the most productive. Put simply: they seem to have read “Don’t Say Gay” and decided that saying gay themselves was the best thing they could do. 

The idea to respond to a bill dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by saying the word “gay” didn’t necessarily originate from Kate McKinnon’s recent Saturday Night Live sketch in which she repeated the word “gay” to the tune of “Smoke on the Water,” but it certainly brought it to a wider audience.

After it aired, a slew of celebrities decided their way of engaging with the harmful legislation would be to just tweet out the word “gay” a bunch on social media—or in the case of Audra McDonald, sing it.

https://twitter.com/SaraRamirez/status/1501598968723218435?s=20&t=grXGcm_8enYtvwe-PXUN-Q

A famous person tweeting the word “gay” to stick it to homophobic Florida legislators is about as useful as one of those rainbow frames you can put on your Facebook profile picture, or those black squares everyone shared in June 2020. I don’t want to discount the valley of public allyship—bringing attention to these issues is important and famous people have a role to play. But it’s been a long time since Ellen DeGeneres said “gay” on the cover of Time magazine, and the things we can do have moved beyond that. 

By distilling this issue into “they said we can’t say ‘gay’ so we’re just going to say it a bunch,” these celebrities are missing the core problems with this legislation. It’s not about saying the word gay, it’s about preventing any discussion of queerness or transness in schools, banning books and creating an environment where any deviance from cisgenderness or heterosexuality is frowned upon. It’s about alienating kids and cutting them off from support networks. It’s about shoving queer youth deep into the closet. 

Mark Hamill tweeting “gay” is not going to change anything about any of that; all it tells us let is that Mark Hamill is comfortable with saying the word “gay.” Great.  

I’m not saying these celebrities should give all of their money to trans kids and the organizations that support them (although that would be nice). But there are more tangible, actually helpful things they can do.

Both Jennifer Beals and Mark Hamill (a.k.a. Luke Skywalker) are involved in Star Wars, which is now owned by Disney; Beals recently starred in the Book of Boba Fett series on Disney+. As Disney workers and fans draw attention to the company’s funding of the politicians behind these bills (and Disney executives’ tepid responses to the critcism), it sure would be nice if high-profile Disney stars like Beals and Hamill joined thecause to actually stand up for queer and trans youth. 

Maybe they could call on the House of Mouse to stop funding politicians who make bills like this and actually use some of their clout to enact that change. If celebs like Hamill are actually serious about helping the kids impacted—and ensuring these bills don’t continue to be brought forth and passed into law—a few social media posts directed at Disney could go a long way. 

Instead, it’s low-level Disney workers who are risking their livelihoods to speak out, while the famous stars are tweeting “gay” and thinking it’s activism. 

Performative activism on social media is something that comes up every year around Pride. This whole “saying gay” thing is just another example. But in a moment where new, dangerous legislation targetting queer and trans youth is passing nearly every week throughout America, it’s more important than ever to have all hands on deck.

 If these famous figures want to help, they need to start saying a little bit more.

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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