While I was growing up terms such as ‘gay’, ‘faggot’ or ‘queer’ were purely insults for homosexuals. Gay people reclaimed the word queer as a pride issue and now many choose to refer to themselves in this way. The words gay and fag/faggot are still used to refer to queer people, although I would think only fag/faggot could be considered offensive. The question is, if you refer to someone you don’t like who isn’t gay as a faggot or something negative as being gay, should queer people find this offensive? Should people using the words in this way stop?
The easy and correct answer here is that some people find the words offensive so people should simply stop using them. However, words and their meanings change. There is a whole generation of people who may refer to or describe something negative as gay, yet have absolutely no issue with people being gay. For some people this is just a habit that they may have to consciously try to break, although others may not see any issue with it.
I think it is likely that using these words in this fashion will fade out, or the meaning will change across the board, just as it changed once before from meaning happy to meaning homosexual. I think the South Park episode ‘The F Word’ hit the nail on the head. In the episode the boys use the word fag to refer to obnoxious bikers who make a lot of noise, annoying everybody in the town. The adults are upset as they think the boys are using the word to insult gays (not at all homophobic) when the boys are just using it as a generic insult to refer to the bikers, with no gay connotations at all.
I do understand why gay people could be offended, as the insult only came about as being gay was considered a negative or lesser thing. However these days, just as with the South Park boys, it is not the way the insult is used and is rarely the intended meaning. As was mentioned in the South Park episode, a word is not automatically offensive, it is people who give words their power and allow it to be offensive. Personally, I don’t think using gay to refer to something negative should be that offensive, as I believe enough time has passed that the words meaning has changed in that context.
I think it is an interesting issue and I can see both sides of the argument. At the end of the day however, nothing is going to change with those choosing to be offended by it continuing to be offended and those who continue to say it continuing to say it. What will be interesting is if in 10 or 15 years from now ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ are still used as insults, or they have just faded out of use completely.