|Common examples of homophobic slurs that are used to demonize and slander and bully the LGBT community.|
I trust that AP will use the same exacting fact-based standards, related to the use of “homophobia,” whenever they cite or interview homophobic anti-gay organizations.
By Roy Steele
The Associated Press (AP) is one of the largest news gathering operations in the world. As a not-for-profit cooperative, it’s owned by over 1700 American newspapers, and countless radio and television broadcasters. The AP collects, shares, and distributes, news content created by the members of their co-op, to its members and subscribers.
The AP Stylebook made a decision to “discourage” use of the noun “homophobia,” in news stories, written and disseminated by AP. The Associated Press describes their stylebook as a “writing style guide for journalists. It is published and updated annually to reflect changes in writing style and new guidelines.”
Within the AP Stylebook website, they have a feature called “Ask the Editor.” An eagle-eyed stylebook reader from Eureka, California, spotted a policy change regarding the journalistic use of the noun “homophobia,” and asked the editor to explain the reason for the change. The editor replied:
“Phobia means irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. In terms like homophobia, it’s often speculation. The reason for anti-gay feelings or actions may not be apparent. Specifics are better than vague characterizations of a person’s general feelings about something.”
The AP editor who replies to questions on their “Ask the Editor” page is Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn. In a Washington Post profile of Minthorn, they describe him as the “grammar and style expert” for AP. Post reporter Paul Farhi writes:
Whatever his pronouncements, Minthorn doesn’t rule merely by fiat or whim. He has 42 years of experience as an AP correspondent and editor, so he’s hardly a novice at this. Besides, it’s not just his say-so. Minthorn consults references such as the American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language, the Concise Oxford Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus and “The Elements of Style,” the classic Strunk and White volume that is the Torah, New Testament and Koran for writing style.I want to be clear that what I’m going to say about this idiotic decision, I say with the utmost respect for Minthorn. He has worked in the news industry for years, and he’s a grammar and style expert, and I don’t believe that there are outside sinister forces at play here.
When a reader asked him whether female softball players are basemen, Minthorn did some legwork before answering. Webster’s was of no use, so he investigated how AP’s sports department refers to women in other sports. In women’s basketball, he learned, when a team switches out of zone defense it is said to be playing man-to-man. Hence, the Minthorn-ian judgment: Position players in softball are basemen.
This may all seem arcane and trivial to a world moving rapidly away from linguistic formality — C U L8tr, m8 — but not to Minthorn. “We take this very seriously,” he says. “We’re not a bunch of old fogies sitting around in our ivory tower. We’re alive to changes and new ideas. We have a real sense that new words and changes in language reflect the culture and give us an inkling to where society is headed.”
AP’s senior managing editor, Michael Oreskes, argues that precision and clarity and “other hallmarks of proper style” are vital in an age in which rules seem to matter less and less. “Times of change are when standards matter most,” Oreskes says. “The faster the eye flits across the words, the more vital it is that language be immediately and abundantly clear. The world of journalism is lucky to have Dave. He is an asset for the whole profession.”
WTF! The Associated Press and Minthorn are not a medical doctor, are not a mental health professional, and aren’t a stake holder in the struggle for LGBT equality and civil rights, and shouldn’t be in the business of deciding what constitutes homophobia. Maybe they consulted their reference dictionaries, who knows. The AP has unilaterally decided that this phobia is now a mental illness. And we need scientific evidence to support our diagnosis!?!?!?!? As much as I would like to agree with this assessment, that’s a diagnosis best left to medical professionals, and NOT the editors of AP Stylebook.
I should confess that I suffer from Ophidiophobia and Aichmophobia. In laymen’s terms – that’s an irrational fear of snakes and injections. Should I run to my nearest mental health center to seek treatment for my phobias, that the AP would newly describe as a mental illness?
In a Baltimore Sun opinion piece entitled “Sorry, AP, can’t go along on ’homophobia’” by John E. McIntyre, he articulates why the AP Stylebook is “wrong-headed.”
Moreover, as the estimable Ben Zimmer points out, it may be overstating the case to identify phobias so narrowly with mental illness: “Words ending in ‘phobia’ are commonly used outside of clinical contexts.I couldn’t agree more. This unilateral decision is outrageous! To make this decision without consulting the LGBT community, and medical and mental health professionals, is completely irresponsible and a discredit to their organization.
And there is the heart of the matter. The word homophobia has been in widespread use over the past forty years. In some contexts it identifies a revulsion so irrational that it amounts to a mental disorder; in others, it identifies a pronounced dislike with cultural and political elements. It gets used because it is useful in describing an identifiable phenomenon.
If the editors of the AP Stylebook wish to discourage the use of certain words simply because they can be misused or misunderstood, there ought to be a great many in line ahead of homophobia.
Like a sixth sense, there are two inherent traits that most members of the LGBT community share.
The first is a skill that we nurture and develop after we come out, in order to assure ourselves that we aren’t alone in this great big world. We are sometimes rejected by friends or family, and sometimes we’re fully accepted, but in either case we want to be with our tribe.
Remember - we’ve had to assimilate ourselves into a hetero-normative world to that point, and being a minority group, we know that we will always have to maintain that assimilation. At the same time, after feeling like an alien for most of our formative years, we begin to develop an expertise that is unique to our community. It’s social Darwinism on steroids, and this survival mechanism has served our community since the dawn of time. Development of this skill has been responsible for creating job opportunities, dates, finding a life partner, a new friend, and a good shag. This instinct that we share is often called gaydar.
The other trait that most members of the LGBT community largely share, is a “sense” that we develop before we begin to understand the concept of our identity, or sexual self, or who we are. This understanding starts at a very young age. While we’re completely naive about sexuality, and we couldn’t explain the technical definition of homophobia, we’ve heard the homophobic slurs. If we’re not the target of the name calling, we might witness the bullies doing the damage, or in some cases been the bullies hurling the epithets. Regardless, the great majority of us can spot homophobia a mile away. We can feel it, we can sense it, we can taste it, we can touch it, and I promise you we know it.
The LGBT community is a minority group that has been bullied and dismissed and beaten and hurt and discounted and injured and terrorized for too long. There are members of our community that have been seriously injured and murdered because of the homophobic demonization and slanderous speech that still gets printed in newspapers across the country, and broadcast on radio and television stations from Key West to Ketchikan.
So to the Associated Press – if you want to keep to your fucked up and ill-advised decision to discourage the use of the noun “homophobia,” I would suggest that you and your entire membership (the many thousands – every last one) make a commitment to start a campaign with the LGBT community, to eradicate homophobia from every school, every house of worship, every town square, and every place of employment, in the United States of America. If you can’t make that commitment, then how can you discard the legitimate use of the noun “homophobia” – when by your very actions, despite your good intentions, you are practicing a form of institutional homophobia of the worst order.
If we are going to consign homophobia to the dustbin of history, we need to maintain free speech, and avoid the shackles of censorship that the AP is trying to enforce today. The First Amendment works both ways. I trust that the AP will use the same exacting fact-based standards related to the use of “homophobia” whenever they cite or interview homophobic anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Family Research Council (FRC), American Family Association (AFA), evangelical leaders, the Republican party, and other extremist organizations.
Anything less would be extremely homophobic and even more outrageous.
© 2012 JIVEINTHE415.COM