10/23/2012 12:18 EDT | Updated 12/23/2012 05:12 EST

The Tweet I Regret, and the Lesson I've Learned

Twitter website and Tweetdeck in operation on an ipod touch
Twitter website and Tweetdeck in operation on an ipod touch

During the final presidential debate, Romney pointed out that the size of the U.S. Navy is currently the smallest it has been since the First World War. Obama came back with a real zinger, stating that the U.S. military also has fewer horses and bayonets today than before. Military technology has modernized and hence the need for a large navy has decreased, claimed Obama.

Without thinking, I tweeted that Romney had just been "raped" by Obama. Realizing my mistake, I deleted the tweet seconds later and issued an apology later in the debate. The verb in question is often used freely and colloquially by people in my generation in a synonymous fashion with "owned" or "destroyed," paying no attention to its actual meaning.

And after wrongly using the verb in a tweet, I realized that -- from a moral standpoint -- it should not have that connotation ascribed to it.

I distinctly recall in elementary school the phrase "that's gay" often used by friends to mean "that's bad" or "that's uncool." We have since made numerous advances in gay rights -- same sex marriage being the most famous -- and colloquially ascribing a pejorative meaning to the word "gay" has gone out of style, at least as far as I can tell.

It may have taken an idiotic mistake on my part, but I now appreciate more than before the importance of language in advancing our values. It is not enough to pay tribute to certain laudable rights-related causes every once in a while. We must be serious about the issues in question in every aspect of our lives.

Nowhere is this more true than in the question of women's rights. We have clear indications that show that the level of peacefulness of a society is determined not so much by democratic development, wealth, or cultural or religious homogeneity as it is by the way the society in question treats its women.

Canada is better than most states when it comes to women's rights but by no means are we perfect. In fact, we are imperfect in many different ways. Many aboriginal and other women live in abject poverty and lack basic education skills. Women are underrepresented in Parliament and haven't yet achieved income equality in many professions. Violence against women still exists. And women's reproductive rights are being questioned once again.

Many state that equal rights for all have already been legally achieved, obviating the need to continue to fight for them. This is incorrect. Challenges most certainly remain, and education remains a vital tool in ensuring that our values are passed on from generation to generation. There is no final victory for universal liberty in a society -- it is always a single generation away from being lost.

Bullying against teens -- particularly gay teens -- has produced tragic incidents in recent years. Thankfully, Canadians from across the political spectrum are beginning to tackle this issue in legislative form, notably with the introduction of the right to build gay-straight alliances in all Ontario schools.

Transgender rights also remain an important challenge of the future. Parliament has begun to address the issue of gender identity but has failed so far to move forward on gender expression successfully.

LGBT issues have taken the spotlight in various countries in recent years. As a strong friend and supporter of LGBT causes, I am very glad to see this. Gay and transgender rights are one of the issues I am most passionate about when it comes to social policy. What we need to do now is to use the momentum generated from the advances made on LGBT rights to push a plurality of social causes.

Whether it be defending and assisting all victims of rape and violence, pushing for further LGBT rights recognition, fighting for environmental protection, making sure women's rights remain on the political radar or advocating justice for aboriginals, there is much left to be done. These are fights that will require our entire essence, not just occasional lip service.

My friend and mentor -- Liberal MP Irwin Cotler -- taught me that a society should be judged first and foremost by how it treats its most vulnerable members. At the heart of any society are individuals and the language(s) they speak.

I have hence come to the conclusion that in order to protect the rights of gays, women, minorities and others -- in order for our society to truly demonstrate that its cares about equality and dignity for all -- we must demonstrate the utmost sensitivity when we relate to these issues in any fashion.

We could collectively start by choosing our language more carefully and opposing the use of certain inappropriate words whose meanings have unfortunately become watered down over the years. I know that's where I'll begin. And due to how I now feel about my insensitive tweet, I'll begin this task with a sincere desire to make it the first of many steps toward fighting with renewed intention to achieve greater social justice.

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