Wick Communications

File ‘homosexual’ with ‘colored’

In journalism on 28 Mar 2014 at 8:08 am


Recently, I was talking with a former intern who has now gone on to great things. She was telling me that, when she was a student journalist, she used the word “homosexual” in the school newspaper and caught hell for it from gay and lesbian support groups on campus. I told her that I hadn’t heard that anyone found the term offensive and was surprised at that reaction.

That’s because I was ignorant.

Sunday’s New York Times included an interesting discourse on the word and its usage. I read it and came away convinced that I had been wrong and that the word should be expunged from our coverage. (By the way, take a look at this cool Times Topics page on homosexuality. Did you know you can make collections like this yourself in Blox?)

I can see that the word has been co-opted by haters as a way of marginalizing people. And I was moved by what should have been obvious: The word is a coupling of “homo,” which has long been a derogative, and “sexuality.” It’s just strange to reduce a class of people to its sexuality, isn’t it? Do you commonly refer to people as “heterosexuals?” Aren’t we more than who we love? …

All of that may be moot for you. The AP Stylebook already suggests “gay” instead and that “homosexual” be used only in clinical contexts.

If you disagree, I’m all ears.


  1. Assuming the topic of the story is one that concerns the gay community (which would be the only reason to include the words homosexual or gay), it seems to me that the words homosexual and heterosexual would be appropriate. Neither is perjorative, just terms that describes sexual orientation.

  2. Thanks, Dave, for your comment.

    I think two things: First I generally leave it to the people within a particular group to give me guidance on these sorts of things. It feels a lot like “negro” or “colored” to me in the sense that well-meaning people have been brought along to more modern terminologies. Secondly, I’m not sure what you mean by a story “concerning” the gay community. I would suggest that very, very few of our stories concern our sexuality. I think most of our stories concern people of many kinds and that we almost never use heterosexual to refer to people, right?

    I respectfully suggest you follow the AP Stylebook and the evolving recommendations of gay people themselves.

  3. Homo translates as ‘same’ and hetero as ‘other’, It’s a discriminatory term in as much as it categories gay people as a different section of humanity to ‘straight’ people but the word itself I don’t think is ever intentionally discriminatory. The insult ‘homo’ came from the word ‘homosexual’ as a word that defined gay people, homosexual isn’t an extension of the insult ‘homo’

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