Former Tea Party official Tim Ravndal, left, and Olympic champion swimmer Stephanie Rice, right, both learned lessons this week about the power of words.

I have two sons in middle school, so I know for a fact that children call each other names all the time. Some are silly. Like the time the younger son called his older brother a butthead, and the older brother responded with, “Well, you’re a butt-er head.” I don’t think that one came out the way he intended.

But one day, when the younger brother was calling the older one names, the older one responded, “Sticks and stones may break my bones. But words will never hurt me.” Then he hesitated, turned to me and said, “But that’s not really true, is it? Words can hurt a lot.”

Yep, I told him. Words matter very, very much. Below are three examples how they matter:

GAYS AND GAMING: Microsoft Corp. and XBox Live are apologizing this week to a 26-year-old gamer who had his online account suspended after putting the name of his hometown in his gamer profile: Fort Gay, W.Va. The man, identified in the AP story only by his last name, Moore, did his best to explain to the powers-that-be over at Microsoft and Xbox Live that this really was the name of the town he lived in, and even gave them the zip code, suggesting they Google it and see for themselves. But the enforcement team folks weren’t having any of it and suspended his account. Even the mayor of Fort Gay tried to convince them, but to no avail. The mayor said he was told the word “gay” was unacceptable in any context.

Finally, Moore got through to somebody with some sense who apologized and reinstated his account and gaming privileges. And Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for XBox Live, said the company has no total ban on the word “gay”: Gamers are welcome to include the words “lesbian,” “gay,” “bi” and “transgender” in their profile or gamertag to “express relationship orientation.” They are not allowed to include anything that would offend other gamers, though, and apparently the online gaming cop who initially suspended Moore thought that Moore had made up “Fort Gay” with the intent of making fun of someone.

Moore, for his part, said that even though he isn’t gay himself, he felt like the company was being anti-gay and discriminatory. (Oh, and maybe someone should tell Microsoft and XBox that “transgender” is not a “relationship orientation.”)

RUGBY WRONG TURN: Australia’s Olympic championship swimmer Stephanie Rice this week lost a lucrative contract as a spokeswoman for the Jaguar car company — and the sweet ride she was given when she signed that contract — after sending out the Tweet “Suck on that faggots” in celebration of the Australian rugby union team, the Wallabies, who pulled out a come-from-behind win over the Springboks from South Africa on Saturday.

Jaguar lost no time in yanking the contract and the car, despite Rice’s tearful apologies. In a press conference on Wednesday, Rice said her Tweet comment was “thoughtless” and “careless.” She said, “I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of days. I’ve learned I must think before I speak, and this has been an important lesson.”

You’d think a 22-year-old would have learned that lesson before now, huh? Read more at On Top Magazine.

TEA PARTY HATEFULNESS: So, now we have heard about Microsoft/XBox Live’s questionable judgment and Stephanie Rice’s “carelessness,” both of which are offensive, surely. But now let’s move on to some comments by a (now former) Montana Tea Party official that move beyond just hurting some feelings.

Tim Ravndal was on the board of the Big Sky Tea Party Association when he participated in an exchange on Facebook that apparently makes fun of the death of Matthew Shepard. You all remember Matthew Shepard, right? The young gay man who was beaten nearly to death by a couple of straight boys in Laramie, Wyo., who didn’t like gays, and then tied to a fence in a field to finish dying.

Ravndal put a post on Facebook declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman, only, and that allowing same-sex marriage would violate the Constitution and his own personal rights. That got this response from another FB user: “I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions.”

Ravndal’s response: “Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?”

Ravndal apologized for seeming to condone violence against another human being, but claimed that he didn’t know the post was referencing Shepard — it was more than 10 years ago, after all — and he said the Big Sky Tea Party threw him “under the bus” when they kicked him out.

The Big Sky Tea Party Association board wasted no time in kicking Ranvndal out. Board chair Jim Walker said in a statement: “We continually make it known that we will not tolerate bigoted dialogue, behavior or messages at our functions, our meetings or within our ranks. If a person demonstrates bigotry relative to sex, ethnicity, etc., they are not welcome in our organization. The Tea Party movement is about standing up for individual freedom for everyone.”

(Read more from AP here.)

It’s a nice thought, and the Montana Human Rights Network has applauded the Big Sky folks for swiftly condemning the anti-gay rhetoric. But I am not so easily convinced. I can’t help but think there are plenty of others in the Tea Party who feel the same way Ravndal does (think Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Engle, for example). And it makes me even more concerned about what will happen in the November elections this year.