Saturday, February 16, 2013

Media should re-think term "openly gay", perhaps use the term "out" to describe Kathleen Wynne...

When Kathleen Wynne won the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in late January, it was historic. Not only would Ontario have its first female premier, Canada would also have its first "openly gay" premier.

They didn't refer to her as Canada's first "gay" premier because, in fact, she wasn't. We know that former New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield was most likely gay, but not out of the closet. For all we know, there were probably other premiers and even prime ministers in Canada who were gay. We just have no idea as they didn't publicly confirm such things in the past.

Mid-February, the media are using 'Ontario's first woman premier' or 'Ontario's first openly gay premier' less to describe Wynne and simply are calling her 'Premier Kathleen Wynne.' I hope that continues.

A queer colleague and friend commented to me this week that she's getting irritated by the media's constant refrain 'Ontario's first openly gay premier' to describe Wynne. Why can't they simply use the term 'Ontario's first out premier,' she pondered. I agreed with her.

She sent me this article which dealt with the same subject a few years ago. Author Stephen Elliott warned about the persistent use of the term 'openly gay' in quite an insightful way:

“We should take care with this phrase, which is useful in certain limited contexts but unnecessary and potentially offensive in others.

"For starters, of course, we note someone’s sexual orientation only when it is pertinent and the pertinence is clear to the reader. In those cases, we should describe someone as “openly” gay only to distinguish him or her from others who may be gay but are not open about their orientation. For example, it makes sense to say “so-and-so was the state’s first openly gay legislator,” because there may well have been other gay legislators who did not reveal that fact.

"But in most other contexts where sexual orientation is relevant, we can simply state that someone is gay without the “openly.” Using the modifier when it’s not necessary suggests that there is still something surprising about not concealing one’s orientation.”

Do we call Joe Oliver Canada's first openly Jewish minister of natural resources? Do we call Alison Redford Alberta's first "openly female" premier? Then why must we still refer to Wynne as 'Canada's first openly gay premier'? I would suggest that the media soon drop this description and simply, if they must, call her 'Canada's first out premier.'

If readers don't know what "out" means, they can always do a little research to find out.

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