This past Friday, as I was walking to my residence hall and talking to my mother on the phone, a car full of people drove by. One of them poked his head out of the window and shouted to me, “Hey, homo!” The car then sped away.

A few hours after this incident, I was in the Michigan Union with a friend, standing near Mrs. Fields. As I stood there chatting, someone behind me said the phrase, “That’s so gay!” and walked away.

It gets worse. Last Saturday, as I stood in the brunch line at the Mosher Jordan residence hall cafeteria, the person next to me in line said, “Breakfast here is so gay,” to a person next to him. When the person to whom he was speaking didn’t hear, he repeated, “Breakfast here is so gay.” Last Monday, when I was in South Quad for lunch, a person yelled, “That’s so gay!” to something a friend of his had just said. Later that evening in South Quad, a person used the phrase “fucking faggot” as I stood a few feet from him.

In the minutes following the first incident, my reaction was to laugh at the situation — to laugh at the thought that someone who did not know me would make assumptions about my identity and yell it from a passing car. But as I walked to my dorm, I became more perturbed. Questions about my personal safety passed through my mind. Would those shouted words turn into actions at some point? I thought about this in the following days as I heard phrase after phrase that were laden with homophobia and ignorance, and I became increasingly frustrated and concerned.

For me, homophobic language is nothing new. I have endured this from family members and strangers alike. But for some reason, these particular incidences — especially the fact that for the first time, someone yelled an epithet at me from a passing car — have eaten at me. Since the day of the incident, I have worn a purple wristband. It reads, “Erase Hate” and It’s a wristband that was given out at an event I helped organize this past October — the Matthew Shepard Vigil. The purpose of this vigil was twofold. First, to commemorate the lives of LGBT individuals and who were killed or assaulted simply because of their lifestyle. Second, to draw attention to the fact that there is neither federal nor state legislation in 14 states that prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination and violence.

I would be lying if I said that these incidents have not affected me. They take a toll on me because I, along with countless others, am their target. I could say that these instances are indicative of the society in which we live — a society that condones and in many ways supports homophobic language. But I’ve realized something else: This language is indicative of a climate that exists on this campus. The message that hate speech is not acceptable and will not be tolerated is missing on this campus. We need a strong, public campaign against hate speech at the University.

Rather than merely be upset and frustrated, I have decided that something must and can be done. First, I am urging all of us as community members, as students and, most importantly, as human beings to challenge incidents of bias that we hear. Second, I will begin to collaborate with various Michigan Student Assembly committees, University offices and student organizations to start a strong, public campaign against hate speech. The motto of the campaign will be “Check Yourself.” That means that we should think before we speak and check our personal biases and prejudices. Many times, we may not know that what we say can be hateful, which is why this campaign is a needed medium of education. I ask that you all “check yourselves” in your own speech and be aware of what you say.

Robby Saldaña is an LSA sophomore.

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