AP “Homophobia” Decision Doesn’t Reflect Reality

ap_stylebook_coverby Jarrah Hodge

The Associated Press Stylebook sets a newspaper industry standard for grammar, language, and reporting principles. So when the AP makes changes, they can have a significant impact on the media we consume. That’s why a lot of LGBT writers and activists are upset at the recent move by the AP to ban the use of the word “homophobia”. The AP has chosen to read a very literal definition into the word “homophobia”, arguing any word ending in “-phobia” represents “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness” and that such words should not be used “in political or social contexts” (this also nixes “Islamophobia” and presumably “Transphobia”).

AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Milthorn was quoted in POLITICO as saying:

“Homophobia especially — it’s just off the mark. It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”

Even though when you take “homophobia” that literally it doesn’t seem like the most precise term, there are a couple of big problems with the AP’s move.

The first is that their definition doesn’t reflect common usage. Occasionally I’ll use the term “heterosexism” because I think it’s a better word to show that the privileging of heterosexual people and the subordination of LGBT people is systemic (e.g. it makes more sense to say a policy or institution is “heterosexist” than “homophobic”). But I still use “homophobic” more frequently and one reason for that is that people generally get it. People understand when you say someone’s homophobic that you’re not literally saying they need mental health care. They understand you’re not implying they aren’t responsible for their actions or attitudes. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in LGBT 1 Comment

Pride and Displays of Sexuality

The Vancouver Pride parade is one of my favourite events of the year. But so far this year I’ve spent less time thinking about what colour nail polish I should wear and more time thinking about the recent kerfuffle over Shinder Purewal’s anti-Pride tweet.

As Hearts in the Margins points out, Twitter isn’t the best venue for detailed discussions on LGBT rights and sexual self-expression, so I’m taking this one to the blog.

You’ve probably heard the tweet by the Kwantlen professor and former Surrey North federal Liberal candidate: “Vancouver’s so-called ‘Pride Parade’ should be banned. It is vulgar … to say the least!” The tweet not only sparked a Twitter firestorm but was also covered in mainstream media, including a call-in segment on the Michael Smyth show on CKNW on Friday, and a story in the Vancouver Sun.

Most people I talked with disagreed with the initial comment, especially the call to ban Pride, but there was more of a debate around his clarification:

“If I can’t take my family to a place because of open sexuality, my opinion is that it’s simply vulgar.

That does not mean that I don’t support same-sex marriage, which I do and voted for, or that I don’t support people of different sexual orientation, but for it to be in public is vulgar.”

Mr. Purewal is fully entitled to his opinions, but his initial comment about banning and some follow-ups he made to the National Post led me to wonder if his problem is the display of gay sexuality, not sexuality in general.

“Sexuality is what you do within the four walls of your home and that’s your business. Openly in streets, we don’t normally do that. Heterosexuals, we don’t display that.”

He’s not alone in this opinion. One of the CKNW callers went on about how he’s not against gay people but he hates having this display shoved in his face.

And I remember a conversation with a friend who said, “It’s fine if they’re gay, but why can’t they just be more normal about it?”

This whole idea that people aren’t exposed to displays of open straight sexuality on a regular basis is horse-pucky, to use a Rachel Maddow-ism. For a more extreme example take frat parties, or Granville St. on a Friday night (though a friend pointed out kids aren’t usually around at this hour to watch).

Even movie ratings tend to say showing straight sexuality it more acceptable than LGBT sexuality (check out Kirby Dick’s This Film is Not Yet Rated for more on that).

And less exceptional still, consider the straight couples you might have seen making out in your high-school hallways at lunch. It might not have been appropriate behavior for high-schoolers, but the worst penalty you were likely to get was a talking-to from the Vice-Principal. At many schools like the one I attended to, exemplifying any sort of “gay” behavior was likely to get you beat up after school. There was no way same-sex couples could make out in the hallways without risk of assault.

Although, straight couples don’t usually worry about being attacked for walking in public holding hands, it’s unfortunately not rare to hear of gay-bashings of trans people and gay and lesbian adults in Vancouver.  That year-round violent policing of public same-sex sexuality is why I react so strongly to a comment like Mr. Purewal’s.

But let’s say for a moment that someone is equally opposed to displays of straight sexuality, especially exposing their kids to it. I’m not going to pretend there aren’t sexual displays at Pride. Even though my Denman Island hippie upbringing makes it hard for me to understand why people have an issue with it, I acknowledge there are some things in the parade that might make some people uncomfortable. As MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert said on CKNW, seeing guys dancing in short shorts is “not everyone’s cup of tea”.

But it’s a long parade that shows the huge diversity of the LGBT and allied community. It’s not all guys in short shorts or shirtless women on motorcycles. And no one is forced to go there, or take their kids.

Vancouver Board of Education in the 2009 Pride Parade

If parents want their kids to avoid seeing the displays of sexuality, that’s fine. But I don’t buy the argument that no one should be able to take their kids. Spending time as a kid on nude beaches and at parties hosted by lesbians or gay men, some of whom had naked pictures of themselves on the wall, didn’t traumatize me or make me anyone different than who I was.

By taking me to these things my parents showed me that was one ok way to be, but I also had numerous other models, including their own straight marriage. I didn’t become a lesbian just because I saw a couple making out at the nude beach on Hornby Island, and I didn’t find it confusing. That was just how some people were and I was taught some day I could take whatever path I wanted, as long as whatever I did was safe and consenting.

I’m not a parent, so I’m not trying to tell other people how to raise their kids. I’m just saying in my childhood, open discussion of healthy sexuality didn’t cause any long-term ill-effects. Lots of parents take their kids to Pride every year, and that’s as much of a legitimate choice as staying away if you’re uncomfortable.

Pride is about creating a safe space for everyone’s self-expression. Since the idea of what’s acceptable self-expression is subjective, there can’t be that kind of regulation. Instituting some kind of dress or behaviour code would be impractical and would attack the spirit of Pride.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT 2 Comments

Alberta Finally Removes Homosexuality From Mental Disorder List

Came across this Edmonton Journal article via Queerty yesterday:

EDMONTON — Alberta continues to list homosexuality as a “mental disorder” along with bestiality and pedophilia, and doctors used the diagnostic code to bill the province for treating gays and lesbians more than 1,750 times between 1995 and 2004, government records show.

The province has known about the classification for more than a decade and the Conservative government first promised to change it in 1998. On Tuesday, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky repeated that promise.

Seriously, Alberta? Seriously? The Canadian Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1982, and the WHO did so in 1990. Keeping homosexuality on the books gives fuel for the arguments of homophobic fundamentalist groups and there’s no excuse for it to be on Alberta’s books 5 years after BC removed it from theirs, and 9 years after China agreed being gay doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill.

Luckily by the end of the day yesterday Alberta had announced they had removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. But even though the immediate issue has been dealt with, the realm of gender and sexual identity related to mental illness is still contested terrain. Pink News points out that most health bodies, including the APA and the WHO still list transsexualism as a mental illness rather than a medical condition, a factor which can contribute to the stigma facing trans people and the scrutiny they face when trying to access health services. France is the only country in the world to de-list transsexualism as a mental illness.

Here’s hoping it won’t take decades for places like Alberta and the rest of Canada to follow France’s lead.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in LGBT, Politics Leave a comment

My Stuff Elsewhere: Feb. 24, 2010

It’s Women’s Wednesday here in Vancouver! After Canadian women took home a gold medal, two silvers, and a bronze at the Olympics today, several people pointed out that 11 1/2 of 15 Canadian medals have been won by women. It’s great to see Canadian women have such a strong showing in these games. I only wish the amazing women ski jumpers who were hoping to get their sport recognized at these Olympics would’ve had the same opportunity to compete.

But in between working and catching the games I’ve been continuing my regular blogging on other sites and here are the latest links to those posts:

Scene from Pet Show Craze

1. My latest About-Face blog post is about PC games designed for tween girls. To research this post I played a whole bunch of these games, including Pet Show Craze (left), in order to look at the messages they send about what it’s important for girls to achieve.

2. Last week I wrote briefly here about the controversy around men’s figure skating. Because one of the other contributors and I are big skating fans and it’s an interesting debate we’ll have more on this blog about the gender issues in figure skating. But I also did a more in-depth piece on homophobia in men’s figure skating for the Vancouver Observer. You can read that article here.


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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Pride Parade 2009 Photo Blog

I love the Vancouver Pride Parade. It combines the costuming of Halloween, the open love of Valentine’s Day, the sun of Canada Day, the sense of a struggle for our rights of Labour Day, and for many, the inebriation of St. Patrick’s Day.

This year was actually the first time I’d watched the Pride parade, instead of walking in it with a group, and it was huge fun to see all the entrants showing their pride and reminding us of those who have fought for equal rights for gay, lesbian, trans, and queer individuals and communities. Pride also reminds us that there are struggles yet to face in this area, and we will have to stand together to defeat heterosexism and prejudice.

Growing up in a small town where, less than 10 years ago, the visiting Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Choir was pepper-sprayed by an audience member, where students at my 1500 person highschool could not find a teacher to sponsor a Gay-Straight Alliance, and where bullies “joked” about forming a “Gay-K-K”, the celebration of Pride has a special importance for me.  Of course there’s still heterosexist prejudice in Vancouver and across Canada, but the fact that so many organizations and individuals, gay and straight, get together to celebrate Pride, gives us hope that we can end the hate.

So for those of you who missed out on Pride Vancouver this year, here are some pictures I took. I got kind of tired of picture-taking and low on camera batteries for the end of the parade, but I hope this set of pictures shows how great it was, and convinces you to support the Pride Society and make it to the parade next year!

My friends and I arrived early and had a great location right beside the awesome Joan-E, the MC at the Boathouse:


Joan-E, looking stunning as usual.

Yessiree, that's our Mayor

Yessiree, that’s our Mayor

Lovely hair and costuming from the folks at Cirque de So Gay

Lovely hair and costuming from the folks at Cirque de So Gay

Nice entry from the Vancouver Board of Education

Nice entry from the Vancouver Board of Education

I wish I could do this

I wish I could do this

Youth-Co AIDS Society, one of my fave local non-profits

Youth-Co AIDS Society, an amazing and innovative local non-profit

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in LGBT Leave a comment