News Site Calls Runner 'Homosexual' Because His Name Is Gay operates an automatic filter to change words that 'do not suit' its ideological line.

Lital Levin
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Lital Levin

The news site at operates an automatic filter to change words that "do not suit" its ideological line. So its report on the victory at the Olympics of sprinter Tyson Gay looked like this: "Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has. "His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing. "It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me." Every time sprinter's surname appeared, the conservative filter changed it to "Homosexual." If you are talking gays, that's the proper term in the editors' opinion. In "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009," edited by Dave Eggers, this text took first place in the category Best American Censorship Blunder.

"The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage" gives explicit instructions to use the term "gay" rather than "homosexual," a term that according to the manual hints at crime or shame. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (known as GLAAD) urges the media to refrain from the use of word "homosexual," which because of its clinical history was adopted by extreme objectors to gays and lesbians to describe them as sick or disturbed.

Efrat Rotem, a volunteer at Hoshen, the informational and educational center of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in Israel, knows very well that the word "homo" is derogatory. She hears it frequently at schools she visits to conduct workshops on tolerance of the other. Nevertheless, when Rotem has to choose between the words "homo" and "homosexual" (which have been adopted "as is" into Hebrew) the choice is unambiguous: "I prefer the word 'homo,' in part because gay men use it. A homo will not call his friend a 'homosexual' except in jest." In Rotem's opinion the negative charge of the term "homo" is in fact a good reason to use it more. "Movements for rights change social perceptions. They give words positive meaning to words that were derogatory."

The first part of the word "homosexual" is from the Greek homo, meaning "the same" or "identical" as in "homogeneous" and not, as many people think, "male" or "man" as in "homo sapiens," from the Latin. The use of the term became popular at the end of the 19th century and was linked to the conceptualization of homosexuality as a characteristic defining an individual and serving to categorize him in psychiatric and legal discourse as pathological, perverted or criminal. Many gays and lesbians nowadays prefer to be described by other terms not associated with these connotations.

"When young lesbians or gays read about sexuality for the first time, their first encounter is with the word 'homosexual'," says Rotem in explanation of the flinching from this word. "When they get a bit older and realize 'I'm in fact that very big and scientific word,' the word becomes more identified with the way we are perceived from the outside."

Rotem had a similar experience with the word "lesbian," but instead of replacing it with another, she changed her attitude toward it. "For me it was very hard to say the word 'lesbian' and apply it to myself, because I knew it was often used as a derogatory term." Her attitude toward the word changed when she learned its origin - the Greek island of Lesbos, where the poet Sappho, whose verses suggest she was lesbian, lived and wrote. Now Rotem feels it is "a word with historical significance that moves me."

Zvi Triger, a writer and lawyer, has examined the difference between "homo" and "homosexual" in a book he wrote with Amalia Rosenblum entitled "Speechless - How Contemporary Israeli Culture is Reflected in Language" (2007). His opinion is similar to Rotem's. "Gay men and lesbians prefer the word 'homo' because it takes the derogatory sting out of the word and also refuses to transform homosexuality into a pathology, a word that smells of sickness," says Triger. "This is a move in which a derogatory word is taken, emptied of its accepted signification - in this case connotations from the area of mental health - and adopted." However, Triger believes there is a limit to the extent to which the language can change consciousness and social perceptions. "The important thing isn't the fight over the politically correct word but rather the essence, the social and conceptual change."



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