Sunday, October 17, 2004
Words and phrases to know
Civil union: Provides same-sex couples some rights available to married couples in areas such as state taxes, medical decisions and estate planning.
Closeted, in the closet: Refers to a person who wishes to keep his or her gay or lesbian orientation secret.
Coming out: Short for "coming out of the closet." This is letting others know of one's previously hidden sexual orientation.
Domestic partners: Unmarried partners, of the same or opposite sex, who live together. In some locales, they may receive some of the same benefits accorded married couples.
Don't ask, don't tell: Short for "Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass," the military policy on gay men and women. Instituted in 1993, the military is not to ask service members about their sexual orientation, service members aren't to tell others about their orientation, and the military is not to pursue rumors about members' sexual orientation.
Outing: Publicly revealing the sexual orientation of someone who has chosen to keep that information private. Derived from "out of the closet."
Do's and don'ts of problem language
Here are words and phrases to avoid, according to gay organizations:
Homosexual: This clinical-sounding word defines people, first and only, by their sexual orientation. "Homo" is often a slur. Use instead: gay (adj.); gay man or lesbian (nouns).
Sexual preference: This term suggests that being lesbian or gay is a choice, and therefore "curable." Gay groups say sexual orientation is part of a person's genetic makeup. Use instead: sexual orientation.
Gay lifestyle, homosexual lifestyle: There is no single gay or lesbian lifestyle; gay men and women are diverse. The term also suggests a choice in sexual orientation. Use instead: gay, lesbian.
And where did 'gay' come from?
There's no truth to the folk legend that the word "gay" originated as an acronym for "good as you." The word has been used to refer to homosexuals since the 1920s, possibly earlier. It's believed to come from "gaycat," or "geycat," a term used by American hobos during the late 1800s to describe a young, inexperienced vagabond. Gaycats often accompanied older tramps, implying a same-sex relationship, the Web site Wordorigins.org says. The first written use of "gay" to mean homosexual was in Noel Coward's 1929 musical, Bittersweet.
Sources: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association; Enquirer research.
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