What exactly is a ‘practicing homosexual’?

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: July 14, 2010 in Blog

The State (Columbia, S.C.) needs a quick lesson in proper LGBT identification.

Yesterday, writer Carolyn Click opened an article with the following paragraph: “The debate over the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church USA once again moves to the local level, leaving some clergy energized and others worn out by the continuing debate.”

But, what exactly is a “practicing homosexual”? What is the “homosexual”practicing? Yoga? Softball? Music lessons? Or, does the “homosexual” need to be fully engaged in some sexual activity at the particular moment in which they are currently “practicing”?

It’s a horrible term, and that’s why most mainstream publications have come to avoid it. Obviously, that memo didn’t make its way to Columbia.

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s Stylebook Supplement explains further:

openly gay/lesbian: As a modifier, “openly” is usually not relevant; its use should be restricted to instances in which the public awareness of an individual’s sexual orientation is germane. Examples: Harvey Milk was the first openly gay San Francisco supervisor. “Ellen” was the first sitcom to feature an openly lesbian lead character. “Openly” is preferred over “avowed,” “admitted,” “confessed” or “practicing.”

[..snip..]

practicing: Avoid this term to describe someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Use “sexually active” as a modifier in circumstances when public awareness of an individual’s behavior is germane.

And, more on the use of “homosexual”

homosexual: As a noun, a person who is attracted to members of the same sex. As an adjective, of or relating to sexual and affectional attraction to a member of the same sex. Use only if “heterosexual” would be used in parallel constructions, such as in medical contexts. For other usages, see gay, or lesbian.

It is important to note that public reactions to LGBT people are often colored by the terms used to describe us. One poll found that views on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were either more positive or more negative depending on whether the terms “homosexual” or “gay men and lesbians” were used in the questions.

In short, words do matter. They matter a great deal, actually.