Principal Dodig Denounces Use of Gay Slurs
WARNING: The following article contains language that may be considered offensive to some readers. Inklings Online considered this in its decision to run the article, as the words it contains were used in Mr. Dodig’s speech and were employed to detail a serious issue.
On the morning of Dec. 13, something was different about Principal John Dodig’s daily announcement. Instead of merely reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and signing off, Dodig began a lengthy speech that he had been planning for weeks.
“I am told by some students here that they often hear the words gay, fag, faggot, or dyke used in public,” Dodig’s speech began. “I truly believe that most people who use the word gay use it to mean lame, stupid, silly, etc. The other three words are used deliberately to put people down.”
During the next few minutes, he discussed dehumanization during wartime, suicide, and bullying, finally noting that “no student at this school wants to drive someone to commit or even contemplate suicide.”
Dodig was inspired to write this speech after meeting with a group of students, one of whom asked a particularly troubling question: “What would happen if an adult used the word ‘faggot?’”
“ I said, ‘You must be kidding! It’s the same as the n-word,’” Dodig said. “It struck me as odd that he wouldn’t already know.”
In an e-mail two weeks prior to the speech, Dodig encouraged teachers to begin a discussion with their period three students. In some classes, discussions were brief and uneventful. In others, however, students spent the entire period asking questions, debating, and telling personal stories.
“Using [gay slurs] is like punching someone in the face because of who they are,” said Jason Karlen ‘14 in a conversation following the speech.
For lesbian, gay, and bisexual students at Staples, the speech was especially moving. Tyler Jent ‘13, who is openly gay, said he is offended by the constant name-calling in the halls and locker room. For him, negative usage of the term “gay” is personally insulting.
“I don’t want to be put into anyone’s definition of stupid, and I think Mr. Dodig really did a great job of getting that message across,” Jent said.
Alex Mapley ‘14 believes that terms like “gay” are not used as vehicles for homophobia, but rather as general insults that can cause unintended harm.
“I don’t think Staples has any intolerance, I just think people use them without knowing how harmful they can be,” Mapley said.
Jent has found that straight students have difficulty empathizing with their LGBT counterparts, and therefore may carelessly throw around potentially hurtful words.
“Some people just do not understand the hateful connotations that are tied with them,” Jent said.
Dodig hopes that, even though it is a lofty goal, his speech will help change the way students think about and use these words.
“My intention was to have people talk about this issue, not to stamp out all homophobia or gay slurs,” Dodig said. “That would take time and more than one person.”
One student, who is lesbian and asked to remain anonymous, said that the speech was a “step in the right direction,” and that she admires Dodig’s own openness.
But Dodig said the speech was not about himself, and had nothing to do with his own sexual orientation. Instead, Dodig hopes to be remembered for his work, not his sexuality.
“I don’t want to be in The New York Times as Fairfield County’s gay principal. That would be the worst thing in the world,” Dodig said.
On the other hand, most students are aware that Dodig is openly gay and some have even met his partner. Behind his desk is a framed picture of the couple.
“I’m not hiding anything, I just don’t want that kind of notoriety,” Dodig said, gesturing to the photo.
Despite Dodig’s openness and advocacy, some students feel that his efforts will not have an effect on all students.
“The words are like drinking or doing drugs, people always tell you about how bad they are, but at the end of the day some still decide use them,” Bailey Either ‘15 remarked. Dodig’s mission is not only to help the victims of these words, but also those who speak them. When he hears students calling each other “gay” or “faggot” in the halls, he taps them on the shoulder and asks them to rephrase.
“I want to retire having helped all kinds of kids. I want everyone to be comfortable at school,” Dodig said. “If I’ve contributed to that, I will die a happy man.”