America cleans up its homophobic language

Rev.MonroesquareAs the country becomes more accepting of the civil rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans, it is also beginning to reexamine its language used to demeans us.

In last month’s New York Times’ article “The Decline of the ‘H’ Word,” Jeremy Peters wrote that while the word “homosexual” for the most part is “inoffensive,” “outdated,” and perhaps “innocuous,” the word nonetheless is viewed by many in our LGBTQ community as a pejorative term. According to George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the UC, Berkeley, because many still associate the word “homosexual” with sexual deviance, the preferred terms are “gay” and “lesbian.”

“Gay doesn’t use the word sex,” Lakoff said. “Lesbian doesn’t use the word sex. Homosexual does. It also contains ‘homo,’ which is an old derogatory.”

I abhor the word “homosexual” because it continues to be used by faith communities today to demean and denigrate LGBTQs — although the word never appeared in the Bible until its 1946 translation. And while there have always been words in the original Greek New Testament scriptures for same-sex activities, no condemnations appear that it’s an abomination to God. However, for many African Americans, the terms “gay” and “lesbian” are as offensive as the word “homosexual.”

For many African Americans, we use terms like “in the life” — an identifier, a code that derives from the Harlem Renaissance. Another is the term “same-gender loving,” that became popular in our LGBTQ lexicon in the 1990s.

For many, terms like lesbian, “queer” and “gay” are not descriptors used to depict themselves because they uphold a White queer hegemony that many in the African American LGBTQ community denounce. Also for many, the terms strip African American LGBT people of our particular history, struggle and spirituality that not only render us invisible, but also render us speechless.

The word “homophobia” derives from the unique history of LGBTQ people and our shared struggle for civil rights across the world. It has become part and parcel of a universal LGBTQ lexicon that accurately reflects our reality.

The phenomenon of homophobia has power and unfortunately deleterious effects, but part of our liberation is in our strength to call out acts of homophobia. If the press eliminated use of the word, that would not only diminish people’s chances of understanding homophobia’s wide-ranging effects but would diminish the reach of LGBTQ activists in our continued efforts to effect change.


Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.