As a writer, and to some extent, as an athlete, I have an odd relationship with words. On one hand, I recognize the power they have, the things that even just a few of them can do. On the other, it is the recipient or the reader that gives them their power. Words directed at us have exactly the impact we choose to allow them to. It's why Twilight is the most meaningful thing in the world to some, and to the rest of us it's hot garbage.
Where this puts 'gay,' and 'fag,' and epithets like them is murky, especially as they've become so ingrained in our vernacular. You could argue that these words have worked themselves so deeply into that vernacular that they've lost much of their original meaning. You could also argue that it is that which makes them so dangerous and difficult to overcome.
Lost in 'gay' becoming a synonym for 'bad' or 'stupid' is that it got that way because actually being gay was (and in some circles still is) seen as bad or stupid. While that fact is blissfully lost on most individuals, to those of us that are gay, it's a reminder of some of the crappier moments in our lives, of people looking down on us because of who we are, and of the fact that we don't enjoy the same legal protections as straight individuals in many states and many countries. As insults, they're relatively weak, almost to the point of being meaningless. But as reminders, they're almost backbreaking, especially if you happen to live in one of the aforementioned areas.
The majority of this relates to children. Adults are supposed to have gathered the requisite maturity to make mere words roll off our backs. (As well as the autonomy to distance ourselves from unsavory individuals. Many have not, but that's a different story.) Our children on the other hand do not possess that maturity, nor do they possess the immense amount of control over their own lives that adults do. They are stuck, and too often they're stuck in a place where something intrinsic to their being is considered stupid or wrong. Yes, kids will be cruel and no amount of adult legislation will ever change that, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the problem. Quite the opposite, as it is social change, culture change, not legal change that will make our future generations think about how they (intentionally or unintentionally) treat their peers.
Some day these words will truly be meaningless and LGBT will have full equality under the law, both governmental and cultural. But until then, initiatives like It Gets Better and You Can Play are necessary, as is some thought (thought, not censorship) in the words we use in everyday conversation and who they may affect.