Buffalo is the most anti-gay city after a study found people using the most offensive and derogatory statements in tweets. Such terms showed up in Buffalonians’ tweets more than among phrases from any other city, the study found. Arlington, Texas, and Riverside, Calif., came in a relatively close second and third, according to New Now Next.
The anti-gay study has been stirring conversation locally about the factors that might have pushed Buffalo to the top of the list – and what its dubious distinction as No. 1 on that list actually means, in a city that flies rainbow flags along Elmwood Avenue every June, marking a pride celebration that seems to grow bigger each year.
“What this tells me is there’s a lot of work to be done. This is about a lot more than marriage. We are our words,” said Margaret Smith, 62, of the anti-gay study, who has been active in Buffalo’s LGBTQ community for decades. “Tweeting is a little anonymous, as is online behavior. But right now, there’s lot of people on television giving lots of other people permission to be hateful.”
Buffalo become the most anti-gay city in a recent uptick following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. The climb in anti-gay language might not be surprising, said Matthew Crehan Higgins, senior director of the Pride Center of Western New York.
“We expect that people in opposition to us are going to react to that in a negative way when we make progress,” he stated.
Some straight Twitter users who use context online that the anti-gay study found bad, depicted those negative phrases depending on the context and the intent of the person using them.
Tyler Johnson, a 23-year-old factory supervisor who lives in Niagara Falls, said he and many other residents he knows use anti-gay phrases like that in ways they don’t mean to be offensive.
“I wouldn’t say the word ‘fa**ot’ has the same sting it used to. It depends on the context,” stated Johnson, who said he has a number of gay family members. “Even if you post on your buddy’s (Facebook) wall, ‘Hey fa*, check this out,’ it doesn’t mean they like other men. We use the word a lot looser now.”
Authors of the Buffalo anti-gay study noted that it reflects just a count of how many times certain phrases are used, without knowing how many of those times a word was used by someone in the targeted group, in an effort to reclaim and neutralize a word.
Jimmy Levine, a 19-year-old University at Buffalo student, remembers the trip he took to Universal Studios when he was 7. Levine didn’t want to ride a rollercoaster, and his father started yelling. Levine burst into tears, and his father called him a faggot. That was one of the first of many times over the years that family members have used that word to refer to him. Hearing that used to sting, he said, but he’s learned to live with it.
Now, Levine sometimes uses anti-gay phrases like “homo” or “fa**ot” in his tweets, referring to himself.
“I’m gay. If anything, I get a free pass to use those words any way I want because I’m typically the one targeted by them,” he stated. “I do understand the harm these words do, and that not everyone is all right with anyone saying it.”
The Buffalo LGBTQ community has for many years held a Dyke March as part of its pride festivities in June – a public effort to reclaim an anti-gay word that has long been used against members of the community. This year, Smith is one of the organizers of the Dyke March.
“It’s a charged word, strong and political. We’ve taken it back. We also know there are those moments, where when we’re using that word, we’re taking a risk that we’re giving other people permission to use it,” Smith said of the Buffalo anti-gay study. “There’s hate behind it when they use it. There’s love behind it when I use it. It’s a double-edged sword.”
The rankings in the anti-gay study were established through an analysis of 12 million tweets in Buffalo from June 2014 to December 2015 by Abode, a website that helps tenants find apartments, as part of its Best Places to Live series.
Abodo pulled tweets that used one of 154 phrases it identified — either as neutral or as derogatory — as being associated with people who are black, Latino, female, gay or lesbian, transgender, intellectually disabled, or overweight. The Buffalo research measured derogatory language in terms of the number of uses of certain words per 100,000 tweets.
As Buffalo becomes the most anti-gay city on Twitter, they regularly used the offensive terms 169 times per 100,000 tweets. Twitter users in Buffalo also used anti-black words 52 times per 100,000 tweets.