Remedial Lessons in Respectful Language

by Cara on February 17, 2009

in assholes, bigotry, discrimination, gender, homophobia, LGBTQ, media, stereotypes, trans, transphobia and trans misogyny, work

From a Topeka Capital-Journal article about a new bill in Kansas that would extend anti-discrimination laws to apply to both sexual orientation and gender identity:

The Kansas Act Against Discrimination bans discrimination involving public accommodations, housing and employment based on race, religion, ancestry, sex, color, disability and national origin.

Opponents of Senate Bill 169 testified that expanding protection for gays and lesbians in the act could tarnish the institution of marriage, open a floodgate of expensive litigation and encourage bestiality.

Judy Smith, state director of Concerned Women for America, told the committee homosexuality was a “changeable behavior” that shouldn’t be extended constitutional protection. She said the bill undermined marriage and demeaned “culture in general.”

Rep. Janice Pauls, a Hutchinson Democrat and a lawyer, said adding sexual orientation and gender identity would dilute the effectiveness of the state’s discrimination laws.

“My concern is this is so broad,” Pauls said. “It really makes our law unworkable.”

Thomas Witt, a lobbyist for the Kansas Equality Coalition, said states that passed the provision reported about 3 percent of discrimination complaints each year dealt with sexual orientation or sexual identity. If that number held in Kansas, he said, two dozen complaints would be submitted to the Kansas Human Rights Commission.

Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican and member of the committee, questioned whether the change might encourage homosexuals to have sex with animals.

“Would that protect bestiality if someone chose to practice that?” Pyle said.

Two things:

First of all, I’m really glad that opposition to this bill has nothing to do with bigotry on the part of those opposing it.  Aren’t you?

Secondly, this article is a gigantic mess.  It makes no attempt whatsoever to actually use correct LGBT terminology. And this type of shit is still way too common.

The headline of the article says “Senate considers gender identity bill,” which made me assume that you know, the bill was about gender identity.  It also made me assume that, like in many states, a bill protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation had most likely already passed.  But then the article opens up with a story about a lesbian facing workplace discrimination on the basis of her sexual orientation.  So, no, protections on the basis of sexual orientation are not already enshrined in law; and no, this bill is not just about gender identity.

The article goes on to briefly refer to gender identity, but then talks about the bill as though it would only affect “gays and lesbians.”  Gender identity is brought up once more before the terminology changes to “sexual identity” — which could really be incorrect phrasing for either sexual orientation or gender identity.  The issue of gender identity is finally dropped all together, and the article refers to both “homosexuals” and “gay and lesbians” again.  (Bisexual people are ignored entirely.)

This is 2009, right?

This is really very simple.  Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things.  Sexual orientation refers to who you are sexually attracted to.  Gender identity refers to how you identify and/or present on the spectrum of man-woman (if at all).  We all have a sexual orientation, and we all have a gender identity.  But we don’t all need protection against discrimination on the basis of either; those who need protections on the basis of one don’t necessarily need protections on the basis of both; and for those who do need protections on the basis of both, one is just not good enough.

So a bill that protects “gays and lesbians” would of course protect a lesbian transgender woman on the basis of her attraction to other women, but would not protect her if some bigot thinks that she is “really a man.”  Further, a bill that protects against discrimination on the basis of gender identity usually protects more people than just those who identify as transgender, but also just about anyone who others might see as being inappropriately masculine or feminine.  And while a bill that protects on the basis of gender identity would usually protect a man from being fired because his employer thinks he “acts like a girl,” it wouldn’t protect that same man from being fired on the basis that he’s sexually attracted to other men.

That’s why sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing.  They’re two entirely different factors that sometimes, but hardly always, overlap.  And that’s why legislation protecting on the basis of both is important.

All of this information is readily available, and failing to seek it out and just going with your assumptions and prejudices is incredibly disrespectful.  If you don’t get it, look it up, people.  Or get someone else to write the damn article for you.

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{ 6 comments }

1 Renee February 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

I agree with all of the points that you made in your post but I wanted to say that I am conpletely disgusted with the connection between gays and lesbians and bestiality. How the hell do they make a leap like that. It seems that in 2009 we are still determined to equate homosexuality as somehow inherently perverted. It seems to me that they are will aware that no such link exists and that they only make this leap to be inflammatory.

2 SunlessNick February 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I am conpletely disgusted with the connection between gays and lesbians and bestiality.

That raised my red flags as well.

3 Alex February 17, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Also, the idea that anti-discrimination laws are a zero-sum game is patently ludicrous. An employer who is prepared to make homophobic or transphobic decisions is pretty likely to be making other discriminatory (or unfair) decisions as well. I am a discrimination lawyer in the UK, where we have legislation prohibiting discrimination on all of those grounds. It’s not ‘unworkable’; it’s a way of ensuring that employers are forced to make fair, non-discriminatory decisions. The protection of one group does not have to come at the expense of another.

4 Mireille February 18, 2009 at 3:54 am

And homosexuality is changeable behavior but religion, my god, nobody ever changes their religious beliefs. And then expect everyone to respect their new beliefs as though they believed it their whole life and that since they believe it now everyone else should. Yes, religious belief is totally not changeable like sexual attraction is. Gah, this pisses me off.

5 Lemur February 19, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Wow. Please tell me the newspaper article made some mention of the fact that gay=/= screwing sheep?
I mean really, if people are allowed to keep saying that like it’s the truth and nobody says out loud that it’s bullshit, it’s just going to make things harder, even though it’s ridiculous.

6 Dee February 19, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Of course, it is natural progression that when one discusses gender identity and sexual orientation, you move onto discussing bestiality. I’m surprised that it didn’t continue onto incest and pedophilia.

Bigoted fools. They know not what they are talking about, and yet preach it like gospel. It’s pathetically sad and hints at under-education, and the deliberate misinterpretation of facts.

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