Leading from the Left

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News & Observer Followup

In response to my blog post several days ago about their use of the word "homosexual" to describe gay people, the N&O has begun a discourse on its own blog. Check it out here.

I commend the N&O for using a public forum like blogging to solicit input and beginning a dialog. Thanks, y'all...

Language matters, and I believe it's time for the N&O and other local media to abandon medically accurate terms (like homosexual) and use language that reflects the humanity of the LGBT community. While 'homosexual' is, as the editor points out, technically a synonym for 'gay,' so is 'Negro' a synonym for African-American or black.

But I imagine that it can be hard for a newspaper to judge the moment when a social custom has changed. When, exactly, does a term like 'homosexual' become 'antiquated?' When is it time to drop a term of reference that a minority group finds objectionable and adopt language more in keeping with the times?

For me as a gay person, the answer to those questions is obvious; to the editor of paper with a diverse readership, change might be slower in dawning.

Here's a disturbing, and true, example of how little things have changed. When Joe Herzenberg died last week, there were numerous articles in the local and regional papers about his death and his accomplishments. One VERY prominent Orange County elected official complained that the articles about Joe were 'too gay.'

Yep, she did. Let's face it, Joe's contribution to history was his election to the Chapel Hill Town Council as North Carolina's (and the South's) first openly gay elected official. While there was much more to Joe than just that one victory, it is only natural that newspaper accounts of his death cover that victory. The media handled the subject in exactly the appropriate way.

However many older people (the person in question is just shy of 76 years old still don't have a comfort level with sexual orientation or the gay community. Even if they publicly support gay rights, as this person does, they still can't get past the old notion that being gay is something better 'not talked about.'

Yes, it's homophobic. But we're along way to a day when that attitude is no longer held.