Dear Christopher,

Recently I was making a presentation at a local senior center. The director told me how offensive she found some words. Of Italian heritage herself, she told of trying to explain to an 80-year-old client that calling someone a “Wop” was hurtful. I shared with her a story from my youth when a friend said her mother called my thatssonotgay_editedshoemaker grandfather a similar term. (We were the only Italian family in our neighborhood.) But in a strange aside my friend said to me that her mother meant no harm. Really!!

It took years for my father to understand that calling one of his buddies at work “colored” would be offensive. Recently we see how Donald Sterling’s words caused such uproar with his use of racially charged. Apparently he still does not see how his behavior was inappropriate.   Just recently a video went viral showing a local white mother scream invectives at an African-American in a minor car incident. The woman was not deterred by the presence of her young children or even the man saying he was filming the event.

At your house if someone, child or parent, slips and uses a pejorative of any kind that person has to put a quarter into the piggy bank. Not that anyone uses racial or ethnic putdowns. But occasionally a mild curse word escapes. What a good way to show the damage of words.

When I supervised student teachers I was appalled at the middle and high school students who very casually labeled people or experiences as “so gay”. When I pointed this out to student teachers they said the kids meant no harm.

Maybe people who may use words that demean others intend no harm. But these words do cause harm. They first and foremost shut down communication. No one who is being demeaned can freely talk. Plus being called names damages self esteem and even may cause depression. I saw this when I taught high school. Kids were free with calling others “fat” or “retard” despite my best efforts to stop the practice.

Your kids would be hurt or confused it they heard “so gay”. So would their cousins, but I have no doubt it has happened already. Your cousin Lillian recently told me of a college classmate who said many things that were homophobic. She was furious and let him know that. That a young man who is studying to become a counselor could have such beliefs is upsetting.

Words do matter. One way we see this since the implementation of marriage equality. Since you and Patrick are now married in your state’s eyes that has caused a change. Calling him, the person you love, your husband seems different. It seems as if society is more committed to protecting your family. And that is no small matter.

Love, Mom