In 2009, GSAFE presented the idea of creating an “anti-slur task force” to students at our summer Leadership Training Institute. One of the students who attended that training returned to her school in the fall and nurtured that seed of an idea into something amazing: Words Hurt Week.
In collaboration with her administration, various departments and clubs, and her Gay-Straight Alliance, Maria Peeples organized week of events meant to demonstrate the power of words, and shine a spotlight on the impact that words can have on all of us to hurt or to heal.
While the primary organizers of that first Words Hurt Week were GSA students, the event focused on so much more than anti-LGBT language; each day of the week focused on a different system of oppression: racism, sexism, ableism, and heterosexism.
Words Hurt Week culminated in a day of speakers, and teachers could sign up to bring their class to the auditorium to hear about a variety of topics. One man talked about his struggles with mental health and the impact that the word “crazy” has on him. A panel of three women – one Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim – spoke about their experiences with religious intolerance. There was a different speaker for each hour of the day.
Words Hurt Week was such as success that GSAFE asked the organizers of that event if they would be willing to document their work and create a manual that other students could use to organize similar events in their schools.
Since this first Words Hurt Event in January of 2010, countless schools in Wisconsin have organized similar events. Thank you to Lana Thiel, Maria Peeples, and all the other students and school staff who worked tirelessly to create this important campaign, and to pull together this amazing manual.
Click here to download the Words Hurt Organizing Manual.