Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Focusing on language will not solve the problems

  • Print

IS it demeaning, degrading or insulting to insinuate someone is gay? From a politically correct position the answer is "no." But in the real world and apparently in the Manitoba Legislature, the answer is a resounding "yes."

For the last 20 years and more, the enlightened have been convincing us that a same-sex orientation is a normal feature of human society and any negative connotations which were previously associated with this characteristic should be negated. This development has been embodied in anti-discrimination laws, the acceptance of same-sex marriages, the adoption by same-sex couples, gay-pride demonstrations and the characterization of gay people as normal citizens of our society with no negative baggage to bear. We have come a long way from the days when homosexual acts were defined as criminal conduct and were punishable by imprisonment.

But wait a minute. Last week in the legislature one of the MLAs referred to one of his opponents in another party as having a "male friend." All hell broke loose.

The offending member immediately made a profuse apology. The member to whom the attack was directed was offended but accepted the apology.

It didn't stop there. The NDP caucus disciplined the offending member and penalized him by denying some of his parliamentary privileges.

Clearly something is amiss in this scenario.

If homosexuality is a totally acceptable human condition why is it considered insulting and degrading for someone to be imputed to be gay?

Why would MLA Dave Gaudreau feel it was necessary to apologize for having made, at worst, a mistake in attributing homosexual conduct to a heterosexual colleague, but not insulting him?

The reason is it is the regrettable truth many, if not most males, would consider it insulting to be called gay. Gaudreau knows this and the NDP caucus knows this. Furthermore, when the remark was made it undoubtedly was intended to be an insult.

It follows that all of the best intentions have not obliterated what years of cultural history have engrained in our thinking. Despite changing the language and legislating against prejudice, the fact remains that homosexuality is not simply accepted as normal by many in our society.

This is the second occasion within a month an MLA has been brought to account for engaging in politically-unacceptable language. Brian Pallister is accused of having referred to a NDP MLA as a "retard." Pallister denies he used the word but the real argument centers on whether the word itself is acceptable.

"Retarded" was a word which had been used professionally to describe what is now referred to as "intellectually disabled" or "mentally challenged." In the same way, the word crippled has given way to "physically disabled."

The improved language is a commendable way to describe conditions affecting human beings who happen to be saddled with these conditions.

But it is important to appreciate the conditions exist and require special consideration. Merely changing the language will not resolve the problems associated with the condition.

The situation is best illustrated by the story about the law firm of Rabinovitch and Gorenstein. After practising for some years, Rabinovitch decided that he could increase his clientele if he changed his name. Being the fan of a late president he chose the name Kennedy. He was an immediate success. His partner decided that he too could improve his business if he changed his name. He too was partial to the name Kennedy and also adopted it. The firm became Kennedy and Kennedy. The phone rang and the secretary answered, "Hello, Kennedy and Kennedy." The client responded. "I would like to speak to Mr. Kennedy." The secretary asked, "Which one, Rabinovitch or Gorenstein?"

The same situation prevails with regard to the euphemisms we have created to more positively describe some of our diverse characteristics.

There is a distinct danger, however, when people say "physically challenged," some people hear "crippled." When people say "mentally challenged or disabled," some people hear, "retarded." When people say "gay" some people hear "queer."

The condition doesn't change with the language. It is important it is the condition which is respected regardless of the nomenclature.

 

Sidney Green is a Winnipeg lawyer and former NDP cabinet minister.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 A9

History

Updated on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 9:41 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Dave Gaudreau

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

The Whiteboard - Jets' 5-on-3 penalty kill

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A mother goose has chosen a rather busy spot to nest her eggs- in the parking lot of St Vital Centre on a boulevard. Countless cars buzz by and people have begun to bring it food.-Goose Challenge Day 06 - May 08, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you watch The Interview?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google