Should ‘Ex-Gay’ Be in Quotes?

A board member of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays has complained to the Washington Post about its use of quotes around the term “ex-gay.”  Why, the letter-writer asks, is “ex-gay” put in quotes while “gay” isn’t.

Putting “ex-gay” in quotes suggested that such a sexual orientation is not valid, not recognized or both. But thousands of former homosexuals collectively identify themselves as such. The D.C. Superior Court ruled in 2009 that ex-gays are a protected sexual orientation class in the District.

Not all persons who experience same-sex attractions choose to live gay lives. Many of us have voluntarily left a homosexual life through therapeutic work or behavioral choice. I did, and I have been happily married to a woman for nearly five years; we have two children. I no longer experience same-sex attraction and have no desire to return to the homosexual life. Please respect this choice.

TBD’s Amanda Hess reacts to the argument and suggests that PFOX is up to no good and that the tactic is an attempt to legitimize their victim status.  She also says this about the quotes:

Even if “thousands” of people identify as ex-gay—and I can find absolutely no support for that figure—is that niche group really visible enough to be readily “recognized” by readers of the Washington Post? Everyone knows what “gay” is. Not everyone knows what “ex-gay” means. And as long as that’s the case, PFOX will maintain its strategically advantageous outsider position. Better to annoy the gays with.

NLGJA’s style guide puts quotation marks around the term, without explanation. This is an explanation of the term:

“ex-gay” (adj.): Describes the movement, mostly rooted in conservative religions, that aims to change the sexual attraction of individuals from same-sex to opposite-sex. Generally discredited as therapy in scientific circles.

A short exchange on an NLGJA listserv failed to get a resolution on whether the quotes–often considered “scare quotes”–were appropriate. Some people suggested that people should be allowed to label themselves–something that has long been a guiding principle for NLGJA’s style recommendations–and therefore ex-gays should be able to use the term without having it couched in quotes.

So what do you think? Should “ex-gay” be put in quotes?


5 Responses

  1. I’m wary of quotes — as you observe, the term “scare quotes” reveals their frequent purpose.

    I think calling them “self-described ex-gays” is a more neutral compromise.

  2. ex-gay, quotes or no quotes, is not a sexual orientation.

  3. I used to put “ex-gay” in quotes, but since we write about the ex-gay movement a lot, it just got too chunky looking to keep up. Besides I also believe people should be identified according to their preferred labels.

    But I do make exceptions based on the intended or anticipated audience. I’m writing a major piece right now in which the ex-gay movement makes an appearance, and I anticipate that a significant portion of my audience will be straight and otherwise unfamiliar with the movement. So there, I opted to put “ex-gay” in quotes, followed by a brief explanation. Subsequent mentions of ex-gay then are written without the quotes. I just works out to be cleaner that way. And besides, you don’t need quotes to express skeptIcism.

  4. Ex-gay is a term not recognized by many outside those who use it for themselves. Readers of the Washington Post probably won’t know what it references since that is quite different from the obvious. And since it really isn’t a valid term among professionals or the general population, quotes might be appropriate in that venue.

    I think PFOX is more concerned about pushing that claim that “ex-gay” is a sexual orientation. They have dropped that here and there for the past few years because it is part of their schtick, to take the language and laws of civil rights and adopt them for their cause (the idea that homosexuals can convert to heterosexuals, and should). The part about the DC Superior Court is garbage, twisted so far out of reality that it makes no sense. Then again, PFOX is fairly comfortable with deceptive practices.

    In the end, Jim’s suggestion may be best. Explain the term up front, then just use it throughout the rest of the article without quotes. It certainly shouldn’t be used to describe a sexual orientation. Ex-gay is more ideology than anything else — a true ex-gay would simply be heterosexual.

  5. […] NLGJA “stylebook,” which lays down the law to news organizations on how they should reports matters involving […]

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