Tagged with language

AP nixes ‘homophobia’

No to Homophobia merchandise, credit ABC News http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-21/anti-homophobia-ads-to-air-at-afl-preliminary-finals/4273222

The Associated Press has dropped the word “homophobia” from its style book (used by journalists in the US and internationally), arguing that a phobia is a state of mind and possibly a mental disorder, and that it’s not appropriate for reporters to ascribe a mental disorder to people who make anti-gay statements.

I have to say I agree with the sentiment – homophobia is a poor-fitting word for anti-gay statements and actions, although it might well describe the motivation behind them. It’s also lexicographically contradictory – homo and phobia are from Greek words meaning “the same” and “fear of” respectively, so logically homophobia should mean “fear of (people who are) the same (as me)” – the opposite of homophobia as we understand it.

Words have tremendous social and political power so it’s important we have useful, well-understood terms to describe actions we are trying to call out. Everyone knows what “sexism” and “racism” are (although there’s been some discussion about the meaning of misogyny lately).

This is a long-winded way for me to get to a question: if “homophobia” is off the menu, what alternatives are there?

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Bryce Courtenay: ‘I’m sorry’

Best-selling Australian author Bryce Courtenay has apologised for his use of the term ‘innocent’ to describe people with medically-acquired HIV/AIDS.

After the publication of his book April Fool’s Day in 1993, Courtenay was criticised for describing his haemophiliac son, Damon, as an innocent victim of AIDS.

In an interview broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program this morning, Courtenay said:

The word ‘innocent’ was unfortunate, it really was. It was never used in the book and I think I used it once. People had a — certainly, homosexual people — had a right to be angry. But the net result of April Fool’s Day was the most important book I think I’ve ever written and had it not been for Damon saying, “Dad, you have to tell the world that it’s not a punishment from God; it’s a virus,” I may never have written the book. […]

But yes, for anybody I offended with the word ‘innocent’ I humbly apologise because we’ve come a long way since.

It’s good that Courtenay has finally acknowledged his mistake, albeit 17 years after the outcry it caused. While no compassionate person could fail to sympathise with Courtenay’s grief at losing his 24-year-old son, separating people with AIDS into ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’ victims is plainly offensive, as it suggests some people with the virus deserved to get it, or are culpable for the ‘innocents’ infection. Language like this led to increased stigma among gay men, who were blamed for the spread of HIV at the very time they were taking the lead in combating and containing it.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations publishes a media guide that explains why the term ‘innocent victim’ is offensive:

‘Innocent victims’ is usually used to describe children with HIV, or people with medically-acquired HIV infection. It implies that people infected in other ways are guilty of some wrong-doing and deserved to be infected with HIV. This feeds stigma and discrimination and should be avoided.

Courtenay, who is 79, has announced that he has terminal cancer and that his current book will be his last.

(Hat tip: Daniel Reeders)

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Farmyard shenanigans

First it was ‘Pig AIDS‘, now Australia’s agricultural industries are under threat from ‘Apple Herpes‘. No matter where you look, increasingly our food has a sexually-transmitted infection.

And the common link? Senator Nick Xenophon, whose involvement in both stories suggests he has some explaining to do.

Or maybe Xenophon and the farmers’ lobby could just lay off the venereal metaphors.

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