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Respectful Workplace: The Power of Words
Brian McNaught: Good Words Bad Words
Slideshow: Respectful & Inclusive
PREFERRED: "gay" or "gay man" or "lesbian"
Please use "lesbian" or "gay man" to describe people
attracted to members of the same sex. Because of the
clinical history of the word "homosexual," it has been
adopted by anti-gay extremists to suggest that lesbians
and gay men are somehow diseased or
psychologically/emotionally disordered - notions
discredited by both 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
OFFENSIVE: "homosexual relations/relationship,"
"homosexual couple," "homosexual sex," etc.
PREFERRED: "relationship" (or "sexual 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 offensive and should be avoided.
These constructions are frequently used by anti-gay
extremists to denigrate gay and lesbian people, couples
and relationships. As a rule, try to avoid labeling an
activity, emotion or relationship "gay" or "lesbian"
unless you would call the same activity, emotion or
relationship "straight" if engaged in by someone of
another sexual orientation. In most cases, your readers,
viewers or listeners will be able to discern people's
genders and/or sexual orientations through the names of
the parties involved your depictions of their
relationships, and your use of pronouns.
OFFENSIVE: "sexual preference"
PREFERRED: "sexual orientation"
The phrase "sexual preference" is generally used to
suggest that being lesbian or gay is a choice and
therefore "curable." The term "sexual orientation" is
the accurate description of an individual's enduring
physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual
attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex
and is inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and
heterosexual men and women.
OFFENSIVE: "gay lifestyle" or "homosexual lifestyle"
PREFERRED: "lesbian" or "gay"
There is no single lesbian or gay lifestyle. Lesbians
and gay men are diverse in the ways they lead their
lives. The phrase "gay lifestyle" is used to denigrate
lesbians and gay men, suggesting that their sexual
orientation is a choice and therefore "curable."
OFFENSIVE: "admitted homosexual" or "avowed homosexual”
PREFERRED: "openly lesbian" or "openly gay"
Dated term used to describe those who are openly lesbian
or gay or who have recently come out of the closet. The
words "admitted" or "avowed" suggest that being a
lesbian or gay man is somehow shameful or inherently
secretive. Avoid the use of the word "homosexual" in
OFFENSIVE: "gay agenda" or "homosexual agenda"
PREFERRED: "lesbian and gay civil rights movement" or
"lesbian and gay movement"
and gay men are as diverse in our political beliefs as
other communities. Our commitment to equal rights is one
we share with civil rights advocates who are not
necessarily lesbian or gay. "Lesbian and gay movement"
accurately describes the historical effort to achieve
understanding and equal treatment for gays and lesbians.
Notions of a "homosexual agenda" are rhetorical
inventions of anti-gay extremists seeking to portray as
sinister the lesbian and gay civil rights movement.
OFFENSIVE: "special rights"
PREFERRED: "equal rights" or "equal protection"
Anti-gay extremists frequently characterize civil rights
and equal protection of the law for lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender Americans as "special rights"
in an attempt to energize opposition to
anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws.
"fag," "faggot," "dyke," "homo," "queen," "she-male,"
"he-she," "it," "tranny" and similar epithets.
The criteria for using these derogatory terms should be
the same as those applied to hate words for other
groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote
which 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 man or transgender
"deviant," "disordered," "dysfunctional," "diseased,"
"perverted," "destructive" and similar descriptions.
that being gay or lesbian 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 lesbians and
gay men as less than human, mentally ill, or as a danger
to society. Words such as these should be avoided in
stories about the lesbian and gay community. If they
must be used, they should be quoted directly in a way
that reveals the bias of the person being quoted.
Associating gay men, lesbians, same-sex relationships or
homosexuality with pedophilia, child sexual abuse,
bestiality, bigamy, polygamy, adultery and incest.
Homosexuality and/or being gay is not synonymous with
pedophilia, child sexual abuse, bestiality, bigamy,
polygamy, adultery and/or incest. These associations
often are used to suggest that lesbians and gay men pose
a threat to society, to families, and to children in
particular. Such suggestions are defamatory and should
be avoided, except in a direct quote which reveals the
bias of the person quoted.
What So Bad About That's So Gay?
That’s So Gay: Lasting Impact on Youth
That’s So Gay: Not So Funny
That's So Gay
"That's so gay! I hate that phrase so much. Especially
when the word "gay" in that context is synonymous with
stupid or dumb. Those who say that phrase are nothing
but ignorant numbskulls with no sense of vocabulary and
true understanding of its actual definition. I know
several homosexual people who are by no means truly
stupid and what-not. Though those several are not
completely representative of the entire homosexual
population, you cannot suddenly misuse a word and twist
its definition to mean something entirely different. It
is simply wrong and proves what kind of uneducated idiot
-Gayle Quan/San Francisco, California
say that's so gay to mean dumb and
stupid, that's pretty insulting. Knock it
gay" has been part of the adolescent lexicon for some
time, but a new University of Michigan study has
revealed the phrase could have deep consequences for
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students.
Published in the Journal of American College Health, and
reported by CBS Detroit, the study reportedly examined
the impact of hearing "that's so gay" among 114 LGBTQ
students between the ages of 18 and 25.
The resulting data found that LGBTQ students who heard
the phrase frequently were more likely to feel isolated
and experience headaches, poor appetite or eating
problems than those who didn't. Still, the study also
revealed another troubling statistic: a mere 14
respondents (13 percent) hadn't heard "that's so gay" at
all throughout the duration of the survey.
"Given the nature of gay-lesbian-bisexual stigma, sexual
minority students could already perceive themselves to
be excluded on campus and hearing 'that's so gay' may
elevate such perceptions," Michael Woodford, an
assistant professor of social work and co-author of the
new study, said in a statement. "'That's so gay' conveys
that there is something wrong with being gay." Woodford
went on to suggest, "Policies and educational programs
are needed to help students, staff and faculty to
understand that such language can be harmful to gay
students. Hopefully, these initiatives will help to
eliminate the phrase from campuses."
In 2007, the phrase was at the epicenter of a
controversial lawsuit, after a California teen's parents
claimed their daughter's First Amendment rights had been
violated after she was disciplined by her high school
for uttering the phrase, which "enjoys widespread
currency in youth culture," to classmates who were
allegedly taunting her for her Mormon upbringing,
according to court documents cited by the Associated
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will
never hurt me."
“Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will
break our hearts.”
According to Wikipedia: "Political correctness is a term
which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior
seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional
offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural,
sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or
ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts. To be
politically incorrect connotes language, ideas, and
behavior unconstrained by a perceived orthodoxy or by
concerns about offending or expressing bias regarding
various groups of people."
Choosing the right words is a good start in acting with
civility. It is important to be sensitive to others and
avoid using offensive language or hurtful words. The
words we used have an impact on other people and can
cause harm. So, out of a genuine sense of caring and
compassion, and not simply because we want to be
"politically correct," we should seek to understand
others and communicate with respect.
to research done by counselor Courtney East, there is a
distinction between "political correctness" and "inclusivity."
She says the difference is whether the motivation is
external or internal. Being "politically correct" is
externally driven, behaving in a way that will gain
approval from others. It compromises the value of free
speech and can be equated with censorship. However,
being "inclusive" is internally driven, treating the
other person with sensitivity and respect. It's not just
about the "Golden Rule," in which you do unto others as
you would have them do unto you. It's more about the
"Platinum Rule," in which you actually treat the other
person better. Using inclusive language is preferred to
being politically correct. It is more of a mindset and
an attitude that is motivated by a a sincere desire to
show respect for others.
In order to establish a helpful and supportive
relationship, one must offer positive, unconditional
regard, and create an air of acceptance. That means
using respectful and inclusive language all the time and
with everyone. That means (at minimum) getting
comfortable with the right words and the proper
language. We have the opportunity to choose language
that promotes self-acceptance with the LGBTQ people we
interact with and also models
respect and fairness for others.
words hurt, civility heals. According to the Civility
Project, "We build a stronger and more diverse community
by actively sharing our ideas and opinions with others
in thoughtful and considerate ways. By practicing this
basic commitment to civility, we learn and grow from one
another, even in disagreement." They offer these tips:
--Pay Attention – Be aware of others, be sensitive to
the immediate context of actions
--Listen Closely – Understand other points of view
--Be Inclusive – Welcome all, don't exclude anyone
--Don't Gossip – Do not talk about others in their
absence, do not spread rumors
--Show Respect – Honor others, especially in
--Be Agreeable – Find opportunities to agree
--Apologize Sincerely – Repair damaged relationships
--Give Feedback - Constructive comments and suggestions
only, no personal attacks
--Accept Responsibility – Don't shift blame, share
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