Words Have Meaning: Discrimination in a Post-DADT World

A writer at the Engage Family Minute blog begins his post with an appropriate question:

How exactly is discrimination defined, and what constitutes discrimination?

As has been noted here before (“Of Bullies, Bigots, Homophobes: The Changing American Vocabulary“), it is not uncommon for people or groups to appropriate terminology — or even twist semantics — to support their cause.  Prior discussions have already covered several: homophobe, bigot, bully, tolerance, and Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s use of “rape”.

“Discrimination” was also briefly mentioned, though it has again surfaced in incorrect usage (at least by its traditional definition). In short, it bears reminding that in order to discriminate, one has to act. By themselves, thoughts, beliefs, and words cannot be discriminatory — again, by definition.

An example:  The Catholic Church discriminates when it chooses who it permits to be Priests.  If a person says, “The Catholic Church is wrong for not ordaining women,” that person is not discriminating, and their words are not discriminatory.  Whether you agree with their sentiment or not, merely having a sentiment and expressing it in words does not discriminate.

Similarly, were someone to say “I disagree with a state’s recognition of homosexual marriage,” that person is not discriminating, and their words are not discriminatory.  Amazingly, this type of accusation on this subject is fairly common — and most often uncontested.  See, for example, the accusation by homosexual advocates that Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was guilty of “discrimination” when he did nothing other than express his thoughts on the subject of homosexuality.

Another recent entry to the wars of semantics has been “anti-gay.”  Ironically, there’s even a Wikipedia page for the term, and it lists 15 possible variations to what it might refer, from “heterosexual bias” to “violence against LGBT people.”  The much-criticized Southern Poverty Law Center is probably largely responsible for normalizing what would ordinarily be considered a pejorative term.  Those who use the term may know almost nothing about the person or group they have thus labeled — except that they do not affirm homosexuality.

Yet the term carries the social connotation that someone who is “anti-gay” hates, discriminates (see discussion above), or otherwise mistreats people or groups.  The term “anti-gay” generally seems to have an inflammatory effect — and it seems to have been used that way intentionally.  As the Associated Press did with “homophobe,” the term should be dropped by reputable organizations.

In short, words have meaning.  Rather than simply using the word du jour, the conversation can be far better understood if words are used for their definition, not their connotation, and everyone understands what those definitions are.