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Offensive Terminology to Avoid
media center > media reference guide > offensive terminology to avoid

OFFENSIVE: "homosexual" (as a n. or adj.)
PREFERRED: "gay" (adj.); "gay man" or "lesbian" (n.)

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 "gay."

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 orienta
tion 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 either case.

OFFENSIVE: "gay agenda" or "homosexual agenda"
PREFERRED: "lesbian and gay civil rights movement" or "lesbian and gay movement" Lesbians 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.

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