Friday, February 12, 2010

Wording Matters

A poll shows that an overwhelming number of Americans believe Don’t Ask Don’t tell should be repealed.

Quinnipiac University polled more than 2,500 Americans about the military’s rules regarding gays serving openly and found that 66% called DADT “discrimination.” Fifty-seven percent say that homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly.

Inside the numbers though, is evidence that the issue of gays in the military is still very divisive for some groups, giving cover to the politicians who are fighting changes to DADT in Washington.

Along partisan lines, Republicans oppose repeal of DADT, 53-40. They’re the only partisan group that feels that way. Democrats favor repeal 72-23, and independents back repeal 56-37. Republicans are one of the few demographic groups to oppose repeal, the poll found. When broken down along education and income lines, Americans support the end of DADT. The only other demographic group to oppose repeal other than members of the GOP are evangelical Christians.

That’s pretty impressive — and not surprising for the GOP and evangelicals to come down against it. But what’s also interesting is another poll that shows even more support for the repeal of DADT based on the wording in the poll.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll released this afternoon shows 57% of Americans approve of “homosexuals” serving in the military. Change the word “homosexual” to “gay men and lesbians” and the support jumps to 70%. The change in support holds when respondents were asked whether they think “homosexuals” vs. “gay men and lesbians” should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.

On the “serve openly” question, 44% were in favor when the word “homosexual” is used, and 42% were opposed. When that word was swapped for the alternate “gay men and lesbians” wording, support for serving openly jumped to 58%. Just 28% were opposed.

I think there are two reasons for the different results. First, “homosexual” has been turned into a slur by the right-wingers and the evangelicals, especially the way they drawl it out — “ho-mo-SEX-y’all” — like they were describing something subhuman, which is how they want to portray the gay community; just a collective noun without any individuality. Second, “homosexual” sounds clinical, while “gay” and “lesbian” is more personal: it puts a face on the person rather than a descriptor. There’s also the point that in many ways there’s a difference between being homosexual and being gay. Homosexual means you’re attracted sexually to people of your own gender. Period. Being gay means that you’re attracted to people of your own gender but you know how to put it in perspective, embrace it when necessary, and get on with your life. That’s why when someone taunts me with “hey your gay” [sic] in blog comments, I reply, “Yeah, I know. Thanks.”

I also wonder how many people in the poll would have responded negatively to the question “Should heterosexuals serve openly in the United States armed forces?”