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

Gender Focus Panel: On Reclaiming Negative Words

I was reading one of my favourite blogs, GOOD, the other day and there was an article on “How to Reclaim a Dirty Name”, which particularly focused on the word “slut”. Here’s an excerpt from the intro:

Following the brouhaha in February when Rush Limbaugh called university student Sandra Fluke a ‘slut’ for arguing before Congress in favor of a private mandate for contraception coverage, a handful of campaigns have sprung up leveraging the epithet to further their cause. It’s breathing new life into the decades-long feminist movement to repurpose the word ‘slut’ from a shaming slur into a symbol of sexual choice.

The article listed five steps for reclaiming a negative term (say it first, brace for backlash, embrace the stigma, make it mainstream, take action), implying that it’s possible to reclaim any word no matter its history or how degrading it has come to be. Now reclaiming the word “slut” has been hotly contested by feminists, which the article does acknowledge, and I admit I understand both sides of that particular argument. On the other hand, I would argue that a term like “queer” is an example of successful work reclamation. So I wondered what others thought: is it possible to reclaim any dirty/negative/stigmatized word we want? Are there cases where it’s okay but only if guidelines for use are observed?

Here’s what some Gender Focus contributors had to say: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics, Pop Culture 2 Comments

“Gay is the Word”

Staff and students from the University of Liverpool have come out with a new video based on an idea from the university staff’s LGBT Network. It tells the story of a guy who attempt to come out to a group of his buddies, only to find they can’t understand him because they’re so conditioned to use the word “gay” to mean “bad”, “stupid” or “pathetic”.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in LGBT Leave a comment

Statistical Semantics: Sexual Minority

by Roxanna Bennett

According to the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services in Alberta, the term ‘sexual minority’ means: “persons who constitute a minority population due to differences in their sexual orientations and/or gender identities. Groups characterized as sexual minorities across sex, sexual, and gender differences include lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transsexuals, intersexuals, transgendered, and Two-Spirit Aboriginals.”

A 2006 Stats Can family demographic study showed that 45,3000 same-sex couples lived in Canada. Separating couples into single people means 90,60000 people at the time of the study self-identified as non-heterosexual. In a Sexual Orientation and Victimization study conducted in 2004, 1.5% of Canadians aged 18 years and over identified themselves as being homosexual (gay or lesbian) while 94% of Canadians aged 18 years and over identified themselves as being heterosexual.

A 2009 Canadian Health study showed 1.1% of Canadians aged 18 to 59 consider themselves to be homosexual, while 0.9% of Canadians aged 18 to 59 consider themselves to be bisexual. Following the math, the percentage of people considering themselves to be homosexual declined by .4% in a five year period.

It seems unlikely that the population of the LGBTQ community declined during that time. Perhaps people began using different names to identify themselves, names not on a study questionnaire like Two-Spirit or intersexual. It is difficult to obtain demographic statistics of the LGBTQ population. Studies assessing sexual identity and orientation are rare, orientation and identity is in itself, not a quantifiable idea, and the stigma associated with being LGBTQ makes many people reluctant to self-identify. According to the data, it seems that people who identify as lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transsexuals, intersexuals, transgendered, and Two-Spirit Aboriginal are very much numerically in the minority.

Naming a group of people a minority implies that they are “less than,” and not just in numbers. This label marginalizes the population it seeks to identify. It implies that those who are not in the majority are in some way abnormal. ‘Minority’ means a group that differs in race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation from the majority of the population.

In the case of “visible minorities,” information is collected for the Employment Equity Act, which defines visible minorities as “persons, other than Aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Although the Employment Equity Act is an effective means to create a more balanced and representative workforce, the term “visible minority” has been criticized by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as racist because it singles out a group. Singling out a group of people because they are not heterosexual is also discriminatory.

Using terms like ‘bisexual,’ ‘gay,’ ‘transgendered,’ are positive population identifiers because they name what they are. Using the word ‘minority’ defines a population by what they are not. Not-heterosexual. Not-white. It is an issue of difference. We live in a hetero-normative Caucasian culture, according to census results. As of July 1, 2010, Canada’s total population was estimated at 34,108,800. If study results from 2006 found nearly a million people identifying themselves as homosexual, what results would a more inclusive demographic study conducted now yield? What if the questionnaires included positive identifiers like transgendered and Two-Spirited?

Forgetting for a moment that people who identify as LGBTQ are perhaps reluctant to take part in studies or surveys that will target or label them, it is disgraceful that a country that is purported to be inclusive and multicultural would use perceived difference from being white and heterosexual as a benchmark to conduct federal statistical analyses.

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism, LGBT 1 Comment