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America Cleans Up its Homophobic Lexicon

America Cleans Up its Homophobic Lexicon

As 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 Time’s 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“The Decline of the ‘H’ Word” Jeremy Peters wrote that while the word “homosexual” for the most part is “inoffensive,” “outdated,” and perhaps “innocuous”, the word nonetheless is viewed by many in our LGBTQ community as a pejorative term.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 1990’s.

For many, terms like lesbian, “queer” and “gay” are not descriptors use 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 renders us invisible, but it also renders us speechless.

Cleaning up homophobic language has extended beyond our borders. Last year, and to the surprise of many across the globe, Mexico stepped forward to define and reduce homophobic hate speech. Two commonly used words—”punal” and “maricones” —were the main targets. Both words closely translate as “faggot.”

In a vote of 3-2, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that these two homophobic hateful slurs are not legally protected in the country’s constitution as freedom of speech. The Supreme Court further ruled that any citizen offended by these words now could seek redress by suing for