Want to Serve? Be Gay or Lesbian; Don't Be A Homosexual

By Marc Ambinder

Great job by the folks at the CBS News and New York Times polling department. They've uncovered a classic example of how language influences perceptions in polling. 59% of Americans agree that "homosexuals" ought to be able to serve in the U.S. military. But 70 percent believe that "gays and lesbians" ought to be able to serve in the military. So what are we to make of these confused Americans? "Homosexual" has become a pejorative term, too clinical, associated with a medical condition. But "gays and lesbians" are our friends -- all around us, part of the community. That's my guess. I suppose that some will argue that "homosexual" is being read as "queer" -- a larger subset of sexualities that includes transgender people, for example, or men who dress as women, or who identify themselves -- or refuse to. (But I don't think more than a tiny subset of Americans have read Eve Sedgwick or Judith Butler.) Or it could simply be true that 11% of Americans don't know that "gays and lesbians" are technically "homosexual," although I'm not sure how that would work.  (Note: an earlier version of this post relied on a now-corrected post from CBS.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/02/want-to-serve-be-gay-or-lesbian-dont-be-a-homosexual/35796/