LGBTQ+ Movement 

Terms offensive to LGBTQ community

Chetana Chaudhury  |  Jun 19 2020

Terms offensive to LGBTQ community

Words That Hurt and Why

Sometimes we say words without realizing the impact they may have on others. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Take time to educate yourself about language and its significance. 

Words can make or break a relationship and your choice of words and the way you express yourself can accelerate or kill your career. 

"...But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief." 

Offensive: "homosexual" 

Preferred: "gay"; "gay man" or "lesbian"; "gay person/people"

Please use gay or lesbian to describe people attracted to members of the same sex. Because of the clinical history of the word "homosexual," it is aggressively used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s.

Please avoid using "homosexual" except in direct quotes. Please also avoid using "homosexual" as a style variation simply to avoid repeated use of the word "gay." 

Offensive: "homosexual relations/relationship," "homosexual couple," "homosexual sex," etc.

Preferred: "relationship," "couple" (or, if necessary, "gay couple"), "sex," etc.

Identifying a same-sex couple as "a homosexual couple," characterizing their relationship as "a homosexual relationship," or identifying their intimacy as "homosexual sex" is extremely offensive and should be avoided. These constructions are frequently used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate gay people, couples and relationships.

As a rule, try to avoid labeling an activity, emotion or relationship gay, lesbian, or bisexual unless you would call the same activity, emotion or relationship "straight" if engaged in by someone of another orientation. In most cases, your readers, viewers or listeners will be able to discern people's sexes and/or orientations through the names of the parties involved, your depictions of their relationships, and your use of pronouns.

Offensive: "sexual preference"

Preferred: "sexual orientation" or "orientation"

The term "sexual preference" is typically used to suggest that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a choice and therefore can and should be "cured." Sexual orientation is the accurate description of an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex and is inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, as well as straight men and women. 

Offensive: "special rights"

Preferred: "equal rights" or "equal protection"

Anti-gay extremists frequently characterize equal protection of the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as "special rights" to incite opposition to such things as relationship recognition and inclusive non-discrimination laws.

Defamatory language 

"fag," "faggot," "dyke," "homo," "sodomite," and similar epithets-

The criteria for using these derogatory terms should be the same as those applied to vulgar epithets used to target other groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted. So that such words are not given credibility in the media, it is preferred that reporters say, "The person used a derogatory word for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person."

"deviant," "disordered," "dysfunctional," "diseased," "perverted," "destructive" and similar descriptions-

The notion that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is a psychological disorder was discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Today, words such as "deviant," "diseased" and "disordered" often are used to portray LGBT people as less than human, mentally ill, or as a danger to society. Words such as these should be avoided in stories about the gay community. If they must be used, they should be quoted directly in a way that clearly reveals the bias of the person being quoted.

Tomboy– 

This is also about gender presentation and stereotypes, and says that after youth, it is not acceptable for a girl/woman to be anything other than traditionally feminine. Girls who are more comfortable engaging in activities traditionally seen as masculine and/or who prefer to present themselves with clothes, hair styles, etc. that are seen as masculine can hear this term as a negative judgment, saying that they are not sufficiently feminine. Unlike “sissy, “this term is not always pejorative. Because our culture is male-dominant, a girl being more like a man can sometimes be seen as positive.

Transvestite– 

A term historically used to describe any person who dresses in clothing associated with the opposite sex, this term is now seen as derogatory and offensive. This term was originally used to include people we would now refer to as transsexual and transgender, as well as those who most often refer to themselves as cross-dressers. Cross dressers are heterosexual men who dress in women’s clothing while continuing to identify as male and straight. These men most often do not see themselves as part of the LGBTQ community.

That’s so gay–

 In teen parlance, this phrase is used as a put-down meaning, “That’s so stupid.” This reinforces the idea that being gay is wrong or bad, and erodes the self-esteem of LGBTQ people.

Gay agenda–

 Used to imply a kind of malevolent, surreptitious plan to take over and ruin society or convert heterosexual people to homosexuality. No such agenda exists. The “agenda,” such as there is one, is the fight for equal rights and social justice on many fronts.

Gay lifestyle- 

When used, this phrase is most often meant to convey hyper-sexuality, promiscuity, or immorality. Life-style has to do with choices like how you use your free time (camping or attending the opera or having a family gathering) or where you live (urban vs. rural) and LGBTQ people choose a full range of lifestyles.

Unicorn / Hot Bi Babe (HBB)-

 A bisexual person who desires multiple partners and is willing to join an existing married couple. The presumption being that this person will date and become sexually involved with both members of that couple, and not demand anything or do anything which might cause problems or inconvenience to that couple. "Unicorns" are so named because people willing to agree to such arrangements are rare, whereas couples looking for lovers who will agree to these terms are common. 

Thinking before we speak helps us be more tactful and understand how to offset negativity with something positive.

Your speech shapes your life. Time and again you find yourself in situations where the outcome depends on what you say and how you say it. Your words are a reflection of who you are. If your words are getting you into trouble, you’re showing others the very worst parts of you. You’re presenting yourself as being thoughtless, careless or just plain hurtful. And spreading hatred will take you nowhere  but down the lane. Work for your progress by helping others to climb first, you can hype a person, make them feel like king or queens or how you want yourselves to get treated!! :) 

So next time be mindful of what you say and look for the reason why you want to address a person the way you feel right. Will that make the other person uncomfortable? Hurt? 

Regardless of gender, respect is the right of everyone.

Be kind. 

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


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