The LGBT community
Suggested usage of LGBT terms
in articles, essays, reports, etc.
In this web site, the term "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays,
bisexuals, transgendered persons and transsexuals.
The term "LGB" refers to lesbians,
not the manufacturer of high quality model trains.
This essay is currently being edited. Sorry if the spelling and formatting look odd.
Topics covered in this essay:
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,
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:
||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.|
||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
||Other terms, such as
orientation" have different meanings to the
groups in involved. A few conservative Christian groups define the term as including exhibitionism, sadism, masochism,
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.|
||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.
Some examples of biased reporting:
Bias can easily slip into an article:
|Pastor 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
||He uses the term "life style" to imply that sexual
orientation is a chosen, changeable factor. |
||He takes the inflammatory and perhaps fantasy rhetoric of one
and applies it to all gays and lesbians.|
anti-Homosexuality Web Site" (now defunct) at
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.
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.|
||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:
||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).|
||gays and lesbians account for only 1 to 2% of the population of the U.S. Most reliable estimates suggest about 5%.|
||gays and lesbians are responsible for 50% of the suicides.|
|the media age at death of gay men is 42; that of lesbians is 45.|
||gays and lesbians are 19 times as likely to die in a traffic accident than
the average person.|
|part of the gay agenda is to turn people away from Christianity.|
None of these "facts" appear to represent reality.
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:
||Nature of homosexual orientation: The term "homosexual," -- or the more neutral terms of lesbians and gays -- is sometimes used to refer to:|
||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.|
||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|
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."
||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
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.
|Is 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. |
||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.|
||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.|
|Is it an orientation or a preference?: This is another pair of
terms that biases discussions about homosexuality.
||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
||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
"... 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
|Normal or abnormal?: |
||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.|
||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,
|Equal rights or special rights?: The conflict between equal
and special rights is often seen in the media:
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.
||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.
||"Leaving the homosexual lifestyle; the Ex-gays: Again there
are two mutually exclusive meanings for these terms:
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?
|The Bible: Conservative Christians and Jews have concluded
||On the basis of six or seven passages in English translations of the Bible, that God
hates homosexuality. |
Others conclude that:
||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.
||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
Terms related to same-sex marriage:
|Status 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:
|In 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.|
|Belgium followed the lead of the Netherlands.|
||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.|
|Canadian 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.|
||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.
|Terminology: 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.
Related essays on this web site:
- "AP Stylebook bends to homosexual agenda," 2000-SEP-12. Online at:
- 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."
Copyright © 1999 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 1999-JUL-25
Latest update: 2013-NOV-09
Author: B.A. Robinson