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The LGBT community

Suggested usage of LGBT terms
in articles, essays, reports, etc.

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In this web site, the term "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays,
bisexuals, transgendered persons and transsexuals.

The term "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals,
not the manufacturer of high quality model trains.

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This essay is currently being edited. Sorry if the spelling and formatting look odd.

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Topics covered in this essay: 

bulletOverview
bulletSome examples of biased reporting
bulletConfusing homosexual terms
bulletTerms related to same-sex marriage
bulletRelated material on this web site

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Overview:

At any time over the past 500 years, there has been at least one active "hot" religious topic being debated. Most conflicts in the distant past have been settled. These include the shape of the earth, path of the earth around the sun, interest on loans, childhood vaccinations, etc. But we are currently blessed (or cursed) with a much large than normal number of active religious debates. Most of these tend to involve human sexuality in some way. The most serious current conflicts appear to be on abortion and sexual orientation: specifically abortion access and rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, including the right to marry. Meanwhile, the fight for equal rights by transgendered persons and transsexuals is rapidly building up a head of steam.

Generally speaking, religious conservatives (including fundamentalist and other evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Sikhs, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, conservative Muslims, etc.) tend to take a similar position in these debates. Liberals of all religious traditions tend to take the opposite position, in support of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Medical doctors, mental health professionals, and human sexuality researchers tend to take the liberal view as well.

Language is often used as a weapon in these debates:

bullet It is sometimes impossible to find truly neutral terms to describe beliefs and events. Often, the words used will automatically bias the article. Referring to LGBT behavior as a lifestyle or a preference implies that people can choose their sexual orientation and gender identity. Referring to gays and lesbians as having a sexual orientation implies that it is not changeable and not chosen. Yet, these are the only commonly used words that are available.

bullet Often, terms such as "gay," "lesbian," homosexuality" etc. are used in confusing ways -- sometimes referring to behavior and other times to a person's feelings of sexual attraction.

bullet Other terms, such as "Sexual orientation" have different meanings to the groups in involved. A few conservative Christian groups define the term as including exhibitionism, sadism, masochism, abusive pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, etc. Most now define it according to the scientific/medical useage to refer to the gender to which a person is sexually attracted.

bullet In recent years, the term "homosexual" has gone out of favor with the LGBT community. This is probably because of the incessent attacks on the "homosexual lifestyle" by religious and social conservatives. "Gays and lesbians" is the preferred term and "homosexual" is being used much less frequently. This shift has caused this web site a lot of grief, because we extensively used the term "homosexual" in previous years as a neutral term to refer to gays and lesbians. We lack the staff to search out all instances of "homosexual" on our web site and change them. There is another problem as well. "Gay" now sometimes means a male who is sexually attracted only to other males. Other times it refers to both male gays and lesbians.

The result is confusion, misunderstanding, anger, and a loss in objectivity and balance in the media, some of which is intentional.

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Some examples of biased reporting: 

Bias can easily slip into an article:

bulletPastor P.J. Peters in his article "Intollerance [sic] of, discrimination against and the death penalty for homosexuals is prescribed in the Bible" at: http://www.identity.org/files/homo.html wrote "Homosexuals are willing to...promote their life style...[and] are willing to  prescribe the death penalty to those who oppose them."
bullet He uses the term "life style" to imply that sexual orientation is a chosen, changeable factor. 

bullet He takes the inflammatory and perhaps fantasy rhetoric of one person, and applies it to all gays and lesbians.
  
bullet "The Christian anti-Homosexuality  Web Site" (now defunct) at http://www.anti-homosexuality.com/ referred to two frequently cited passages in Leviticus. The author quoted the original Hebrew text which declares certain behaviors to be to'ebah. This, he translated as "an abhorrence or a disgusting thing." But to'ebah is a religious term, usually reserved for criticizing idolatrous practices. If the writer(s) of Leviticus wished to refer to a moral violation, a sin, he/they would have used the Hebrew word zimah. To'ebah could better be translated "foreign religious cult practice." The author overlooks the facts that the Mosaic code includes as "to'ebah" the eating a cheeseburger, charging interest on a loan, shaving a beard, getting a tatoo, sowing seeds in the corner of a field, attending a multi-faith breakfast, etc.

bullet The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS has created perhaps the most outrageous and best known gay/lesbian extreme hate site on the Internet, at: http://www.godhatesfags.com/ It has the catchy name "God Hates Fags."  Their Fag Facts section contains some amazing assertions that they quote from some highly biased sources. Some examples:
bullet that "homosexuals account for half the murders in large cities." (It is not clear whether they are claiming that gays and lesbians are victims or perpetrators of the homicides).

bullet gays and lesbians account for only 1 to 2% of the population of the U.S. Most reliable estimates suggest about 5%.

bullet gays and lesbians are responsible for 50% of the suicides.

bulletthe media age at death of gay men is 42; that of lesbians is 45.

bullet gays and lesbians are 19 times as likely to die in a traffic accident than the average person.

bulletpart of the gay agenda is to turn people away from Christianity.

None of these "facts" appear to represent reality.

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Terms involving lesbians, gays and bisexuals:

Terminology concerning sexual orientation is a semantic minefield! It is sometimes impossible write about gays and lesbians without using words that are unacceptable to some people. Some of the difficulties are:

bullet Nature of homosexual orientation: The term "homosexual," -- or the more neutral terms of lesbians and gays -- is sometimes used to refer to:

bullet Sexual feelings: person who is sexually attracted to members of the same gender. This is the meaning generally used by gays, lesbians, mental health professionals, medical professionals, religious liberals, etc.

or to:
bullet Sexual behavior; a person who engages in sexual activities with a member of the same gender. This is the meaning generally used by religious conservatives

Sometimes an author will switch between meanings in the same article. This causes a great deal of confusion. A person can be considered gay or lesbian due to feelings of sexual attraction that they have exclusively to members of the same gender. But they may not act on those feelings and engage in homosexual behavior.

The solution is for authors to make it clear to the reader whether they are referring to "sexual orientation" or "sexual behavior."


bullet Sexual orientations: Some people make the assumption that if a person does not have a heterosexual orientation, then they must be gay or lesbian. However, there are more than two sexual orientations -- as a minimum, there are three: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. Bisexuals have feelings of sexual attraction to both males and females. Some writers sub-divide bisexuals into three groups, depending upon whether the individual is attracted mainly to males, to both genders equally, or mainly to females. Some define asexuality -- the lack of sexual attraction -- to be another sexual orientation. This brings the total number of orientations up to six. We recommend that writers keep in mind that sexual orientation is not a duality, but that it encompasses three or more varieties.

A few religious conservative groups sometimes claim that the term "sexual orientation" includes such behaviors as same-gender sexual activity, abusive pedophilia, child molesting, sadism, masochism, bestiality, necrophilia, and other minority sexual activities. This definition can throw civil rights legislation into confusion. If individuals of all sexual orientations are protected by employment legislation, then these groups can claim that (according to them) this law would protect child molesters and other criminals. No other groups agree with this definition; everyone else accepts that the term "sexual orientation" relates only to the gender of other adults to which an adult has feelings of sexual attraction. We recommend that writers use the majority definition.

bulletIs it a lifestyle?: The term "lifestyle" normally refers to a choice that a person makes, e.g. to live in the city or in the country; to marry or remain single; to work for a company or be self-employed. 
bullet Religious conservatives often refer to the "homosexual lifestyle," thus reinforcing their belief that individuals can choose among engaging in same-gender sexual behavior, or heterosexual behavior or celibacy.
 
bullet Others generally refer to "homosexual orientation" thus reinforcing their belief that individuals cannot choose or change their sexual orientation. The Associated Press Stylebook was changed over a decade ago in 2000-JUL to recommend that its writers "Avoid references to gay, homosexual or alternative 'lifestyle'." 1,2 However, "lifestyle" is still in very common useage.

bulletIs it an orientation or a preference?: This is another pair of terms that biases discussions about homosexuality.
bullet Religious conservatives generally talk about "preference" in order to reinforce their assertion that the gender to which a person is sexually attracted is a choice, and that (through prayer or therapy) one can change from preferring sexual activity with one gender to another. 

bullet Others refer to "orientation" to reinforce their assertion that feelings of sexual attraction is fixed and not chosen. Evidence seems to indicate that for the vast majority of adults (perhaps all), their orientation cannot be changed. Many, perhaps most, bisexuals do have a preferred gender that they find sexually attractive; for them, the term "preference" makes sense. However, they comprise a small minority in society, perhaps on the order of 5%.

Since the available evidence seems to point towards orientation being fixed, we recommend against the use of the term "preference." According to Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian organization,

"... the current edition of the [Associated Press] stylebook still avoids the debate over 'sexual orientation' versus 'sexual preference.' Gay organizations, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) are lobbying to drop the word 'preference' from the language." 1,2

bulletNormal or abnormal?: 
bullet Gays, lesbians, sociologists, psychologists, researchers into human sexuality, members of liberal and some mainline faith groups, etc. normally view all sexual orientations as normal, natural, permanent and unchosen. It is defined as feelings of attraction exclusively to members of the same gender.  It is believed to be caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. Studies on identical twins separated at birth and raised independently have confirmed these beliefs. Pedigree studies of the sexual orientation of ancestors of gays have added support. Anatomical and similar studies have been inconclusive.

bullet Religious conservatives tend to view same-gender sexual behavior as an abnormal, unnatural, changeable and chosen preference. It is often viewed as having been caused by poor parenting or being the victim of sexual abuse as a child. A very miniscule percentage of mental health professionals agree with this position.

We recommend following the lead of most physical and mental health professionals, and consider all sexual orientations to be an unchosen and fixed that are normal, and natural.

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bulletEqual rights or special rights?: The conflict between equal and special rights is often seen in the media:
bullet

The LGBT community, and their supporters in various religious and secular communities, often refer to their quest for equal rights, including the right to marry the person to whom they are attracted and to whom they are committed. This would give gays, lesbians, and bisexuals exactly the same type of protection against assault and discrimination as has been already guaranteed to other groups, on the basis of their gender, race, age, nationality, ability level, etc. They sometimes draw comparisons between the 1960's civil rights movement for racial integration and their anti-discrimination efforts in the early 21st century to extend anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation as a protected class. They were successful in 2009 with the passage of the federal hate crimes law.

bullet Some religious and social conservative groups believe that comparing race with sexual orientation is not valid. Hate crime laws traditionally have guaranteed protection for groups on the basis of characteristics that they cannot change: race, gender, age, etc. They feel that to extend this list of protected classes to include the LGBT community is to give them special rights- - rights based on their behavioral choices, not on a factor that is beyond their control.

Gays, lesbians and their supporters point out that, in their opinion, a person's sexual orientation is beyond their control; it is not chosen and is not changeable. Most conservative Christians reject that argument, and point to the alleged successes of reparative therapy in converting persons with a homosexual orientation to heterosexuality. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of this therapy because no studies on it have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and because no long-term studies have been made into its effectiveness. However, in 2013, the main promoter of reparative therapy -- Exodus International -- realized that this therapy is dangerous, ineffective, and has hurt many in the LGBT community. They have abandoned the practice.

It is worth noting that religion has always been a protected class, and it is certainly both a choice and changeable. Yet persons demanding religious freedom are never referred to as asking for special rights.

Strictly speaking, no group promotes special rights for the LGBT community. No proposed or existing law would actually grant rights to persons in the LGBT community that heterosexuals would not have as well. Instead, they grant equal protection for persons of all sexual orientations. A heterosexual who was discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation has the same protection as a lesbian, gay, or bisexual -- or for that matter, an asexual person.

Both "special rights" and "equal rights" are hot-button terms. They should be used with care. We recommend a phrase such as "equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations," as preferable to either term. 

bullet "Leaving the homosexual lifestyle; the Ex-gays: Again there are two mutually exclusive meanings for these terms:
bullet Religious and social conservatives often lump together three groups of people among the "Ex-gays:"  
bullet Persons who have permanently changed from a lesbian or gay orientation to either bisexual or heterosexual. Few studies are available on this; what little data is available indicates that this is either extremely rare or impossible. Some LGBTs who were once leaders of the "Ex-gay" movement, but have since left it, have said that they had never seen someone who had actually changed their sexual orientation or gender identity.

bullet Bisexuals who have made a conscious decision to engage in relationships only with members of the opposite gender; this is a choice open to all bisexuals.

bullet Members of the LGBT community who have made a decision to remain celibate.

Unfortunately, much of their advertising and writing subtlety implies that therapy is largely successful in changing lesbians and gays into heterosexuals. 

bullet Others acknowledge that bisexuals can choose either same-gender or opposite-gender sexual behavior, and that everyone can choose to be celibate. But they stress that a person with a homosexual orientation can never (or almost never) become an "ex-gay" in the sense of becoming sexually attracted to individuals of the opposite gender.

We recommend that writers be clear and specific when describing a person who is no longer sexually active with member(s) of the same gender: Has a miracle or near miracle occurred, and they have changed from gay or lesbian to a heterosexual orientation? Are they a bisexual who has decided to have a relationship with member of the opposite gender? Do they remain a gay or lesbian, while deciding to be celibate?

bulletThe Bible: Conservative Christians and Jews have concluded that:
bullet On the basis of six or seven passages in English translations of the Bible, that God hates homosexuality. 

Others conclude that: 
bullet On the basis of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, that God hates same-gender rape, prostitution, sex in Pagan temples, men sexually abusing boys, and heterosexuals engaging in same-gender sexual behavior. They conclude that the Bible is silent on consensual homosexual sex in committed, monogamous relationships. 

This difference in interpretation causes much conflict.

bullet AIDS and other STDs: Sometimes, writers will refer to the higher rate of STD infection among people with a homosexual orientation as a reason for restricting the rights of all LGBs. They neglect to mention the fact that the infection rate among lesbians is much lower than that of heterosexuals and is also much lower than in the general population.

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Terms related to same-sex marriage:

bulletStatus of same sex marriage: Back in the year 2000, no jurisdiction in the world permitted two persons of the same gender to be married. But, early in the 21st century, such opportunities opened up in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and the state of Massachusetts in the U.S.

As of late 2013, the available options to gay and lesbian couples are:
bulletIn the Netherlands, gays and lesbian citizens and people with residency permits were earlier allowed to register as partners. They were given the right to marry in the year 2001. A bill allowing same-sex couples "the right to marriage and all the trappings" passed the lower house on 2000-SEP-12 and was subsequently passed by the upper house. 3 This was the first political jurisdiction in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry and receive full benefits that have been routinely given to opposite-sex married couples for years.

bulletBelgium followed the lead of the Netherlands.

bullet In a few states, same-sex couples, either residents or visitors, can enter a civil union. These are not marriages. However, both are theoretically equivalent (or almost equivalent) to marriage in terms of rights, privileges, and obligations granted by the state. In practice, couples in civil unions have to fight for equal treatment and sometimes do not succeed. Further, "civil unionized" couples do not receive the 1,138 federal benefits that same-sex and opposite-sex married couples do if their marriages are recognized by the state in which they reside.

bulletCanadian law originally granted same-sex partners equal rights and privileges with common-law heterosexual couples. However, a senior court in the Province of Ontario ordered the province to start issuing marriage licenses in mid 2003. Since then, the federal government changed the marriage laws. As of 2005-JUL, all couples can marry -- both same-sex and opposite-sex, except for certain relationship and age restrictions.

bullet Same-sex marriage (SSM) came to Massachusetts in 2004. As of 2013-OCT, 13 additional states comprising one third of the American population have legalized SSM. By the end of 2013, we expect that loving, committed same-sex couples will be able to marry in 17 U.S. political jurisdictions: the District of Columbia and 16 states.

The public is generally unaware of the precise meaning of terms like: civil unions, domestic partners, registered same-sex partners, etc. We recommend that writers take care to use the correct term, and define the rights and privileges that it brings to the same-sex couple -- both in theory and in practice.

bulletTerminology: We recommend the terms "same-sex marriage" and "opposite-sex marriage." We suggest that the use of "gay marriage" or "homosexual marriage be avoided. They are very commonly used, but are not particularly accurate. That is because they do not allow for bisexual spouses.

Bisexuals are an often overlooked group. They are sexually attracted to both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree. There are many possible marriage types involving one or more bisexuals which cannot be accurately described as a gay marriage: Two bisexual spouses of the same gender might marry; yet neither would be homosexual. A bisexual person could marry a homosexual of the same gender; yet only one would be gay or lesbian. 

The use of the term "same-sex marriage" eliminates this problem.

Another concern with "gay marriage" and "homosexual marriage" is that some gays and lesbians object to the terms. They do not typically regard themselves as entering into a "gay marriage." They are simply getting married. They generally do not differentiate between a same-sex marriage and an opposite-sex marriage.

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletTerminology:
bulletSuggested use of religious terms in essays, articles, etc.
bulletGlossary of religious terms, A to Z
bulletHomosexuality/bisexuality menu
bulletSame-sex marriages
bulletIs homosexual orientation fixed or changeable?
bullet Definitions of the term "homosexual orientation"
bulletReligiously motivated hatred against gays and lesbians on the Internet

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References:

  1. "AP Stylebook bends to homosexual agenda," 2000-SEP-12. Online at: http://www.family.org/
  2. Norm Goldstein et al., "The Associated Press Stylebook," Perseus Books, (2000-JUL) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store American Bookseller calls it "The bible of the newspaper industry."

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Site navigation: Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 1999-JUL-25
Latest update: 2013-NOV-09
Author: B.A. Robinson
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