Using the phrase “gay men and lesbians” rather than the term “homosexuals” can achieve a difference of 17 per cent in poll results, US news shows.
A poll by CBS News and the New York Times asked 1,084 people about homosexuals serving in the US military.
When the word “homosexuals” was used in the question, only a third of people (34 per cent) strongly favoured homosexuals serving.
But when the phrase “gay men and lesbians” was used, this number shot up to over half (51 per cent).
When people were asked about whether “homosexuals” in the military should be allowed to serve openly, respondents were evenly split with 44 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against.
However, when the phrase “gay men and lesbians” was used the numbers changed significantly, with 58 per cent in favour and 28 per cent against.
Democrat voters seemed particularly swayed by the wording. 79 per cent of Democrats said they support permitting gay men and lesbians to serve openly.
Fewer Democrats however, just 43 per cent, said they were in favour of allowing homosexuals to serve openly. Republicans and independents varied less between the two terms.
The findings show how significant language may be in shaping debate on homosexual issues.
The historical use of the word “gay” means “light-hearted, exuberantly cheerful, sportive, merry.” However, the word has come to be widely used as an alterative to homosexual.
The term “homosexual” is often disliked by homosexual activists because it tends to focus attention on conduct.
According to the British homosexual news website, pinknews, US newspapers The New York Times and The Washington Post restrict usage of the term “homosexual” and the Post’s style guide notes that it “can be seen as a slur”.
In Britain, The Guardian tells its journalists that “gay men” should be used instead of “gays” and The Daily Telegraph states that “homosexual” is an adjective, not a noun.
The Times style guide says “gay” is “now fully acceptable as a synonym for homosexual and lesbian”. For the word “homosexual” the guide simply says, “see gay”.