Gay people welcome, homosexuals keep out

Turns out "politically correct" language really does make a difference

Published February 12, 2010 3:13PM (EST)

A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that 70 percent of Americans are in favor of gay men and lesbians serving in the military. Hooray for progress! Unfortunately, the same poll found that only 59 percent of Americans are in favor of homosexuals serving in the military. When pollsters were asked specifically about people of all sexual orientations being allowed to serve openly, support dropped to 58 percent for gay men and lesbians, 44 percent for homosexuals.

The obvious explanation -- and the prevailing wisdom on Twitter -- is that a lot of Americans must not be very swift. But here's another one: Words mean things. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation lays out the difference between those two descriptions in their media reference guide:

The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post all restrict usage of the term "homosexual" -- a word whose clinical history and pejorative connotations are routinely exploited by anti-gay extremists to suggest that lesbians and gay men are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered, and which, as The Washington Post notes, "can be seen as a slur."

So, you know how activists are always insisting that word choice matters, and some words carry a lot of extra baggage even if you don't mean anything by them, and their use has a real cultural impact, even if you don't notice it? And how whenever they do that, they're widely dismissed as free speech-hating P.C. whiners who need to get a life? Yeah. Turns out they might be onto something.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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