Friday, March 26, 2004

Have you done it the gay way? I have, it was great.

I was listening to the re-runs of Little Britain on Radio 4 the other night and laughing at Tom Baker’s comments that “anyone who disagrees is either a woman, a mental or a gay.” In a comedic setting this is fine, but it made me think how the word gay is used in reports and how its use bugs me. You would never see a newspaper headline stating “Disableds back new policy” or “mentals campaign for new rights”. Rightly, it would say “Disabled people” or “People with mental health problems”. But if you are talking about gay men and women or black and Asian communities it seems perfectly acceptable to say “Gays” or “Blacks”.

In some respects this is no big deal, and I recognise that “Gays” is a much easier shorthand than “gay and lesbian” (and bisexual and transgender), but it still bugs me! Last week the Scotsman reported that “employment of gays and lesbians as clerics and as teachers…” I would prefer to see gay men and lesbians. I suppose it is the pedant coming out in me again. Having said that the spellchecker in Word seems happy to accept “gays” and “blacks” but not “disableds” and “mentals” – I suppose blacks gets through by also being a verb. Perhaps the world has moved on and “gay” is now a proper plural noun?

UPDATE - I have looked at a few dictionary sites and it appears I am now wrong and “gays” as a descriptinve term is fine:

Usage Note: The word gay is now standard in its use to refer to homosexuals, in large part because it is the term that most gay people prefer in referring to themselves. Gay is distinguished from homosexual primarily by the emphasis it places on the cultural and social aspects of homosexuality as opposed to sexual practice. Many writers reserve gay for males, but the word is also used to refer to both sexes; when the intended meaning is not clear in the context, the phrase gay and lesbian may be used. Like the other names of social groups derived from adjectives (for example, Black), gay may be regarded as offensive when used as a noun to refer to particular individuals, as in There were two gays on the panel; here phrasing such as gay members should be used instead. But there is no objection to the use of the noun in the plural to refer collectively either to gay men or to gay men and lesbians, so long as it is clear whether men alone or both men and women are being discussed.”