Quick hit: Nathaniel Frank on the AP’s misguided ‘homophobia’ ban

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Yesterday the Associated Press announced that it will drop the term “homophobia” along with “Islamophobia” and “ethnic cleansing” from its Style Book.  Politico reports that the reasoning behind dropping the term is largely semantic, citing AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn’s rationale that a phobia, or “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness” should not be used “in political or social contexts,” including “homophobia” and “Islamophobia.” It also calls “ethnic cleansing” a “euphemism,” and says the AP “does not use ‘ethnic cleansing’ on its own. It must be enclosed in quotes, attributed and explained.”

This is a big deal because the AP Style Book is very influential and could impact journalistic standards across the field.

While I understand the basic sentiment behind this decision, my initial feeling was one of dismay that we would eliminate such phrases without suitable equivalent or improved alternatives. My feelings were put into (very articulate) words by Nathaniel Frank, who has a great explanation at Slate of why this was the wrong move, even if it is being done in the name of “journalistic neutrality”. His logic is pretty airtight:

“So is anti-gay sentiment an irrational fear worthy of being dubbed a phobia? Passive anti-gay sentiment—which people hold when they have not devoted energy to learning about the issues or when they unthinkingly accept selective religious teachings—may be more of a position than a fear. Some might call this a value and say that such beliefs and attitudes should be tolerated whether or not they have a rational basis.

But anti-gay activists aren’t passive. They make specific claims that gay people are a threat to their way of life and should indeed be feared. …

With the more recent rhetoric, anti-gay advocates are making testable claims about specific threats—and all have turned out not to be true. This is one reason that courts—which do require a “rational basis” for unequal laws—have consistently struck down anti-gay laws…

After enough of these hearings—both in courts and elsewhere—have brought rational evidence to light, those who continue to insist that gay people are a threat are being irrationally fearful. Or homophobic.”

In other words, while I agree with Morgan Freeman’s Twitter parody Morgan Freeman’s overall sentiment that anti-gay advocates are assholes, Frank has me convinced that we need to hold onto the term for at least a little while. The whole thing is worth a read.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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