At some point not long before the election, I raised the issue in one of our many news meetings at MPR that "homophobia" is increasingly being used by journalists to describe opposition to initiatives of what are referred to as "gay rights." In this particular case, it referred to discussions surrounding November's attempt to codify the same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota into the state's constitution.
For journalism, it's a loaded term that's best avoided in several situations, especially when it's used to stop a political conversation rather than participate in one.
The Merriam Webster definition is:
"irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals."
Declaring a political stance "irrational" is always dangerous ground for journalism and this week the Associated Press launched the debate anew when it changed its Stylebook (pretty much the bible of newswriting) to eliminate the use of the term.
Dave Minthorn, the AP's standards editor, told Politico:
"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."
The initiative found few friends in the comments section. Like this one, for example:
The AP has further determined that the Nazis were engaged in "enhanced Semitism," that the KKK is characterized by its "unique racial neutrality," and that Catholic priests - while certainly not homophobic - tend to exhibit "involuntary youth fondness". Since, however, everything is neutral and nothing is anything particularly, the AP has also banned the term "news" and stopped reporting, since no one has done anything that can be described anymore.
But another commenter makes a useful point. Sometimes "homophobia" is the proper word to use.
So what do you call heteros who refer to gay men as fags and worse? I think "homophobic" is still accurate.
If you were opposed to the same-sex marriage amendment, are you by definition "homophobic?" Not necessarily. If you kill someone because of an aversion to homosexuality, are you "homophobic?" As a starting point, yes. The problem isn't the use of the word; the problem is the imprecise use of the word.
But the Associated Press' ban on the word because it might be used incorrectly is a longstanding tradition. Up until recently, people found not guilty in a court decision were to be identified as "innocent," according to the Associated Press, even though there is no such court finding as "innocent," and it, too, is a word that could be used imprecisely (think of someone who committed a crime but was found not guilty by reason of insanity; they weren't innocent). But the AP was afraid newspeople would inadvertently leave out the word "not" when writing "not guilty."
In an email to Poynter today, Michael Triplett, the president of the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association, said, "the general sense is that the AP is probably correct in terms of the literalism of the word 'homophobia' and that it really is not the best way to describe anti-gay actions or motives. On the other hand, it leaves writers without a term -- like racism or sexism -- that describes anti-gay sentiment."
How about "anti-gay?"
If you were opposed to the same-sex marriage amendment, are you by definition "homophobic?" Not necessarily.
I think you meant 'in favor of" not "opposed to", Bob. If you opposed the amendment you were against changing the MN Constitution and/or were were opposed to denying same-sex couples the right to marry, which could thus mean that you are in favor of allowing them to marry. No homophobia there.
Is the definition itself part of the problem? I tend to use homophobic the same way I use racist or sexist, to describe an action that is against a particular group of people.
I read the definition as "irrational fear of" being one possible description, not the only one.
If writers and editors are using the term incorrectly, shouldn't that be the issue? No need to put certain words down the Memory Hole
Oddly, I find homophobia to be more accurate than 'anti-gay'; one correctly describes an irrational adversion to gay people, while the other sounds like a pejorative.
Let's face it; there's not a single rational reason (as opposed to rationalization) anyone's ever given for opposing gay rights; it's an emotional issue, which is the definition of irrational.
The definition of homophobia, cited above, includes "discrimination against homosexuality." The marriage amendment was an attempt to discriminate against homosexuals by legally barring them from participating in a state-recognized institution. So, taking the definition literally, I see no problem referring to amendment backers as homophobic.
"irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals"
What is a rational fear of homosexuals? Seriously. That more people will qualify to file tax returns jointly?
If gays and lesbians marry, there will undoubtedly be costs associated with the qualification for a variety of benefits.
But if that is a rational fear of homosexuals, then slave owners were justifiably afraid of emancipation because it would deprive them of property rights (an argument made by Professor Robert Delahunty in opposing the marriage amendment).
Other than some advocacy junk science, the rational arguments against homosexuals have been pretty well destroyed.
That leaves the religious arguments, which by definition are irrational - a belief in things not seen. That is not intended as a criticism of religion, just that it cannot be a basis on which to decide who is entitled to civil rights.
I liked this take: "Homophobia? You are not afraid. You are an asshole."
// So, taking the definition literally, I see no problem referring to amendment backers as homophobic.
The imprecision comes in the fact the "discrimination" part of the definition comes with the "irrational fear" part of the definition. I'm not convinced we can take particular words out and exclude others as a reason to describe people as having an "irrational fear," even though we're not using that part of the definition.
Jim, I saw that on Facebook a lot. That's a conversation stopper.
I just had a conversation at work about a particular word I put in an email. Despite being accurate and the correct usage, I was told to pull it out of the email because "maybe people won't understand that word in that context."
Problems with speaking a living language, the meaning of the words I say, as they are defined, mean something different to people who don't own a dictionary and figure out definitions based on context, or are willing to go off the handle about a definition that wasn't intended to be applied to the word in the context.
if only there was an completely unambiguous way to say things.
"anti-gay" has it's own connotations in my mind of being ok with the rest of the GLBT community, just not the gays. (cause who isn't ok with a B.L.T.?)
// I was told to pull it out of the email because "maybe people won't understand that word in that context."
Remember when the guy in DC was disciplined because he used the word "niggardly"? A word that has no racial connotation.
Let's call a spade a spade. "Homophobia" or "bigotted" are descriptive and accurate enough, and may also be considered to be conversation stoppers.
// Let's call a spade a spade. "Homophobia" or "bigotted" are descriptive and accurate enough
Again, it depends on when you're going to use them. Personally, I don't think it's sound journalism to describe 1,401,275 Minnesotans as homophobic and bigoted, though I will stipulate that some number of that number probably is.
And that's what we're talking about here. The use by journalists of these terms; not the use of these terms by people who have a political interest in their use.
Precision matters, which is why many newsrooms -- this one, included -- never used the terms "pro life" or "anti-abortion". They were loaded terms with an agenda. The more neutral were "people opposed to legalized abortion" and "people in favor of legalized abortion."
Bob, I really appreciate Newscut and your attention to details. I'm often overly snarky. Good thing I'm not a journalist. There is a statistic that something like 50% of Americans don't believe evolution. At best we should call these people ignorant.
I don't think everyone who opposes same-gender marriage is necessarily hateful, but the opposition *is* irrational and causes real, tangible harm to same-gender couples and their families.
Juliet, gay male relationships are often not monogamous. Calling them "marriages" means that the definition of marriage changes to have a meaning that is less monogamous. When "marriages" (both homo and hetero) conform to the new definition of being less monogamous, they are less stable for the children. This concern is not irrational.
// are often not monogamous.
Just curious what data you're citing here and its source.
You've isolated gay male "relationships," as being somehow different. But different from what? Heterosexual "relationships?" Or heterosexual marriages.
The word "relationship" is not a synonym for "marriage," unless you expand it to something like "a COMMITTED relationship."
The question of a stable home for the children is an interesting one by why do you see it as a homosexual issue when nearly half of children are being born to single women and many children grow up in single-parent households. That strikes me as a primarily heterosexual issue.
Why is it that those individuals are deserving of civil law -- forget religion -- benefits but other individuals -- who are together are not?