Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Call to Stop Using the 'H' Word





I think that its time for people on either side of the gay debate to stop using the “H” word. It’s very easy for some people to intolerantly call other ‘homophobes’ as a means to diminish their views, make them feel guilty, and silence their opinions.

It’s used in the same intolerant and bigoted way that the ‘n’ word was expressed to subdue a whole race of people, to make them feel inferior, and to silence their protests.

‘Homophobe’ is used to destroy dialogue and people in just the same way that ‘fag’ and ‘queer’ have been expressed to label people with different lifestyles and ideas. Those words should also be eliminated in the interests of having a constructive dialogue.

I have been called a ‘Homophobe’ because I am not convinced about the ordination of actively gay people. I struggle with that issue on theological and biblical grounds, and not because I fear homosexuals. In fact, I very dearly love my younger brother and also one of my nephews in Scotland. Both of them are gay.

I have also sat, prayed, and held hands with gay men who were dying of HIV-AIDS.

I have annually supported WORLD AIDS DAY each year for many years and have been deeply moved by testimonies of gay Christian people.

I have done all this and yet when I express my struggle over gay ordination, I am labeled, quite unfairly and bigotedly, as a homophobe.

If we are going to get anywhere in this dialogue, then we all need to stop using the ‘H’ word.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

29 comments:

John Shuck said...

So who is calling you homophobic? Another blogger? A church member? Your brother? Your nephew?

Stushie said...

I'm slightly peeved John that you would suggest that my brother and nephew would call me an 'h.'
No, it was two different people...one online and the other in a group.

The Rev. Mr. David Gillespie said...

Very good post and much needed reminder to us all. Thanks.

Sarahlynn said...

I find the word homophobe problematic, not least because it's frequently inaccurate.

And I agree that it's not conducive to constructive dialogue.

But I have a problem with comparing "the h word" to "the n word" for a couple of reasons.

1) In this country, race relations have a particular significant context. Use of "the n word" is tied into that. It recalls a time when a certain group of people were OWNED as property. Or even a much more recent time when a certain group of Americans were disallowed - by law - to own property, eat certain places, belong to certain organizations, marry certain people.

Calling someone who struggles with issues of gay rights a "homophobe" is offensive and hurtful, but not the same at all as calling an African American a "nigger."

2) And it is also a different thing to attack someone for his or her beliefs and actions vs. attacking someone for who or what they physically are.

(You can't be sold into slavery just because you believe a certain thing. In fact, if you don't carry a placard, most people you encounter around town won't even know your opinions. Unlike, say, being black.) Also, being black doesn't by definition restrict the actions of another group of people.

I acknowledge that use of the word "homophobe" as an insult is deconstructive and frequently inaccurate. But I contest the suggested parallel.

Stushie said...

I guess it depends on which side you are on when the 'H' word is used, SarahLynn.

Thanks David.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Sushie.

Sarahlynn said...

Oh, I've been called nasty names before. Most of us have, I suspect. But fortunately I've never been owned, prohibited from voting, or told that I couldn't use a certain drinking fountain simply because of the color of my skin. And I refuse to belittle those experiences by comparing any of my own to them.

Stushie said...

Sarahlynn, that's interesting that you make those comments because I've heard people on the other side of this debate compare their situation with slavery.

Being called names is one thing. Being bigotedly called an 'H' to disqualify my thoughts and dismiss my theological views is another altogether.

andrew said...

I think your dismissal of the use of this word is as sweeping a generalization as what the misuse of this word is, Stushie.

You assume this word is misused by people who support GLBT ordination, and some people do misuse this word. But, I also know some people who are against homosexual ordination because they ARE homophobes. Clearly, and blatantly, homophobes. Until you've heard some of the comments I've heard, your call to end use of this word is a generalization and somewhat ignorant of what people are actually saying in this debate.

It would've been better for you to call for people to recognize Christ in each other rather than making sweeping generalizations of those with whom one disagrees.

Alan said...

While the word "homophobe" is used far more often than it should be, there are plenty of times when it is completely accurate. It may shock you to know that there are actually real homophobes out there in the world.

Sounds to me like you're simply trying to shut people up because someone called you a name. Even if we assume that you didn't deserve being called a homophobe, I'm not sure that gives you the right to try to censor other people's words. If they're inaccurate, say they're inaccurate. It merely makes the other person look more foolish.

But attempting to outright censor anyone for using a word that may, in fact, be accurate is exactly the sort of thing you're complaining about here.

This post reminds me exactly of some equally poorly-thought-out posts on the topic of "hate speech." Replace the word "homophobe" in this post with the phrase "hate speech" and see if you still agree with your conclusions. I bet you won't.

Interesting, though, that you have such a problem with this word, yet you don't at the same time call out those who use the other "H" word: heretic. (or its cousin, "apostate.")

John Shuck said...

My apologies, Stushie.

I tend to agree with Andrew in particular. Homophobia describes a reality.

It has to do with a particular aversion toward homosexuality.

We should not take this word out of the vocabulary (any more than we should take out the word sin) because it describes something that is painfully real and needs naming.

Because it is something used to describe not only outward behaviors but also inner psychological and social motivations, it can be perceived as trying to diagnose someone (which is not well-received and not always accurate) as you have experienced yourself.

Not everyone who opposes equal rights for lgbt people in church and in society are homophobic.

Perhaps heterosexism is a better word to describe discrimination against gay people by straight people.

Here is a good definition and discussion of sexual prejudice from UC Davis:

Like institutional racism and sexism, heterosexism pervades societal customs and institutions. It operates through a dual process of invisibility and attack. Homosexuality usually remains culturally invisible; when people who engage in homosexual behavior or who are identified as homosexual become visible, they are subject to attack by society.

Examples of heterosexism in the United States include the continuing ban against lesbian and gay military personnel; widespread lack of legal protection from antigay discrimination in employment, housing, and services; hostility to lesbian and gay committed relationships, recently dramatized by passage of federal and state laws against same-gender marriage; and the existence of sodomy laws in more than one-third of the states.

Although usage of the two words has not been uniform, homophobia has typically been employed to describe individual antigay attitudes and behaviors whereas heterosexism has referred to societal-level ideologies and patterns of institutionalized oppression of non-heterosexual people.

Stushie said...

Great debate and I appreciate the various links. I think that we agree that the 'H' word is banded about too easily.

As for the other 'H' word, well that's a different blog post...

John Shuck said...

Hmmmm...

Perhaps.

I hope we agree that homophobia and its deadly effects are real, and if the church of Jesus Christ means anything its leaders and followers would be less worried about being called names and more worried about ending the violence, abuse, and discrimination against LGBT people.

Stushie said...

OK, I think we've missed the point again. It's not about calling people names. It's about labeling all people who disagree with gay ordination as homophobes. I thought that we had agreed that this was too quickly presumed and assumed in order to silence people who have different thoughts about this. We seem to have taken a step back and have put it down to just 'name calling.'

It isn't just namecalling. It's used deliberately and viciously against some people, who are not homophobes, to silence and shame them.

Alan said...

Perhaps if people who disagree with certain stances on LGBT issues spent less time worrying about being called a homophobe and more time calling out people who are actually homophobes and/or less time silently standing by while their friends provide homophobic "irrationale" for their own positions, then it would be much harder to label them as homophobes just for simple disagreement.

And, I've seen it happen often enough in the other direction, for example just this week in a blog conversation, in fact. I was accused of calling someone a homophobe when an actual reading of all the words I had used clearly demonstrated that I had not even used the word. So, while knee-jerk name-calling isn't useful, neither is knee-jerk defensiveness.

So while it's easy to point fingers at those who use the term too casually (while ignoring the very same activities from friends who spray the word "heretic" around like a fire hose), it might occasionally be useful to do a little self-examination to see if there's a reason they might be so mistaken, like perhaps a perception that one stands with homophobes because one neglects to call them out.

John Shuck said...

I am not sure what point "we" are trying to make. I made this point:

Not everyone who opposes equal rights for lgbt people in church and in society are homophobic.

But that isn't the only point, nor is it, frankly, the most important point.

I disagree with the point of your post that says we should stop using the word, homophobia, altogether.

Homophobia is real and we need to work against it.

B-W said...

Taking a somewhat different direction for a moment, I'm curious as to way "the N word" was discussed earlier in the conversation.

First, let me quote a bit from Alan, earlier:

But attempting to outright censor anyone for using a word that may, in fact, be accurate is exactly the sort of thing you're complaining about here.

I agree with the idea that the "N word" and the "H word" are not properly parallel, and I think Alan's comment, if re-connected to that conversation, might be helpful. I think we can agree that, rightly or wrongly, we do tend to censor "the N word" in American society. Is it fair to say that such "censorship" is appropriate in that case, because it can't be said that "the N word" is "accurate" to anyone/thing?

I ask because I'm concerned that the word "censorship," itself, is often used to silence opponents. Personally, I think it can be appropriate to call for the avoidance of certain terms (such as the "N word"), but that we do need be careful about under what circumstances we make such calls....

Alan said...

"I ask because I'm concerned that the word "censorship," itself, is often used to silence opponents."

Indeed. I used the word "censor" deliberately.

Consider for a moment that some heterosexuals want to assert their heterosexual privilege to deny LGBT people the right to marry, the right to hold down jobs, the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital, the right to equal protection as victims of crimes, the right to adopt, the right to make estate planning choices ... and the list goes on and on and on. In that context, if one were to step in the shoes of LGBT people, one might imagine that hearing some straight guy say that heterosexuals are now also going to dictate when LGBT people can use certain words might seem like just another addition to the list.

I understand what Stushie is trying to say, "Indiscriminately calling everyone who disagrees with you a homophobe is bad." I agree. However, I don't agree that then having a straight guy indiscriminately telling all LGBT to stop ever using the word "homophobe" is a good solution to that problem, particularly given the context I described above -- a context that Stushie perhaps did not consider.

That, and some people really are homophobes.

Viola Larson said...

After reading all of the comments I have a straight forward question for everyone but Stushie because I already know his answer: )

Who on this thread believes it would be okay to call Stushie homophobic since he believes that, biblically, practicing homosexuals should not be ordained?

John Shuck said...

Hey Viola,

I'll bite. Speaking for myself, I wouldn't use the word homophobic in that situation.

I would say that Stushie, yourself and others who are prejudiced in the way you suggest, are blinded by heterosexism.

But we love you and trust you will find the Lord.

Alan said...

"Who on this thread believes it would be okay to call Stushie homophobic since he believes that, biblically, practicing homosexuals should not be ordained?"

I don't know him, and won't pretend to. But in the abstract, I don't think it is homophobic simply to disagree with someone.

However, I think if that disagreement is based on something other than rational arguments and real evidence, then it may be homophobic. Homophobia, after all, is by definition based on irrationality. So if someone bases their beliefs, not on a rational argument (even if it is wrong) but on irrational fears and phony evidence and pseudoscience, and fake statistics, then yes, I'd say that might be an instance of homophobia. Since I don't know Stushie nor what he believes, nor why he believes it, I cannot say whether he is homophobic or not.

But while you may be trying to oversimplify things in order to score a rhetorical point, I'd point out that isn't the entire point he made, Viola. This blog post isn't just, "Stop calling me a homophobe." Rather it is "stop ever using the word homophobe again." If you re-read the post, you will see that he wrote, "I think that its time for people on either side of the gay debate to stop using the “H” word....If we are going to get anywhere in this dialogue, then we all need to stop using the ‘H’ word."

That is a different issue altogether, and the one that most of the rest us are discussing.

B-W said...

Alan,

"Indeed. I used the word "censor" deliberately."

Do you mean to say that you deliberately were trying to silence Stushie? Because that's what *I* meant when I said that the word "censorship" is often used that way. I wasn't adding to the (relevant) argument that Stushie was trying to "censor" others.

Alan said...

No, I meant that given the context, it isn't too hard to see this post as Stushie attempting to censor others because he disagrees with their use of the word "homophobe."

B-W said...

That's why I asked the question. And, indeed, why I posted the original post. "Censorship" is just a word that has negative connotations, and however much Stushie may have been doing that (I don't want to get into whether he is or isn't, myself), when someone accuses someone else of "censorship," it's usually an attempt to shut that person down, just as much as the person potentially committing the "censorship" is thought to be doing.

Mark Smith said...

(Since Stushie's post got picked up by Presbyterian Bloggers, it seems only fair to bring my comment over as well)

Agreed.

I'd also drop the concept of "inner homophobe" - the idea that each of us in the majority MUST have at least a little bit of racism or homophobia no matter how hard we work for a given minority.

I had been the PLGC Presbynet Coordinator until the mid-90's, and left because I was getting called homophobic. The folks who did it are still in leadership positions.

At the same time, I think that those who are against homosexuality need to admit that they are not God, and therefore may not have a perfect view of the correct interpretation of the relevant scriptures. Many have been driven out of the church by being labeled as sinners (though we are ALL sinners) for their own personal behavior. It's time to drop the "must" statements and replace them with "I believe" statements.

And let's face it - some of the "compassion" directed at "sinners" like gays is really just self-righteousness and "holier than thou" attitude. Not all (and not you, Stushie), but some.

John Shuck said...

"Censorship" is just a word that has negative connotations, and however much Stushie may have been doing that (I don't want to get into whether he is or isn't, myself), when someone accuses someone else of "censorship," it's usually an attempt to shut that person down, just as much as the person potentially committing the "censorship" is thought to be doing.

OK, so do we ever say anything? This is getting ridiculous. There is a reality that is identified by the word homophobia. Whether you like the word or not, whether in your past someone tagged you with that label or not, it is real. It is ugly. It causes death.

There are those who exercise irrational prejudice against other human beings then cry crocodile tears when they are called on it.
You get no sympathy from me. I will use the "H" word when I think it fits.

B-W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B-W said...

John,

Please re-read the first comment I made in this thread. You should see there that I specifically offer a potential answer to your question "so do we ever say anything?"

John Shuck said...

OK, thanks.