1. Avoid the phrase “the gays” and the term “homosexual.” If you’re a white male and don’t like to be called “white boy,” then you should not refer to gay people as “the gays.” And if you take offense at people calling African Americans “colored folk,” then you too should avoid calling gay people “the gays.” This phrase is backwoods, outdated, and grammatically incorrect (“gay” is an adjective, not a noun). It's a poor way of referring to people made in God’s image.
“Homosexual,” when used as a noun to describe a person, is less offensive but it’s still not the preferred term. Technically it may be accurate, as is “white boy,” but it comes with a lot of baggage. It’s best to avoid this term as well, unless you’re referring to concepts or things like “homosexual marriage” or “homosexual relations.”
When referring to people, use the terms gay or lesbian, or the well-known acronym LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). As you may know, this acronym continues to grow (LGBTQITAP…), but I really don’t think these longer versions are catching on in every day speech. LGBTQ (Q=Queer or Questioning) has gained some traction, but I still see LGBT dominate the rhetorical landscape.
The gospel carries enough offense. Let’s not add to it with our own personal or social offensiveness.
2. Not every gay person is having sex
Many of my LGBT friends are not acting on their attraction. Maybe they’re committed to celibacy, or perhaps they’re in a mixed orientation marriage. Even though they still identify as LGBT, they do not act on their attraction because they believe that this would be unfaithful to God.
So if you’re a Christian who believes that same-sex sexual behavior is sin, make sure you distinguish between gay people engaged in such behavior and those who are not. In other words, being “gay” is not a sin, even if you believe that same-sex behavior is. So in your speech, avoid broad brush terminology ("homosexuality") if what you really mean is something more specific (same-sex sexual behavior).
3. Same-sex attraction is not a choice.
Same-sex behavior is a choice. And identifying yourself as “gay” or “lesbian” is a choice. But being attracted to the same-sex is not a choice. It’s not as if a 13 year old boy wakes up one day, heads to school, scans all the boys and girls and says, “Let’s see. I think I’m going to be attracted to…I don’t know…let’s go with—boys!”
Same-sex attraction is not a choice just like opposite sex attraction is not a choice. I never chose to be attracted to the opposite sex, and I’ve never met a gay or lesbian person who chose to be attracted to the same sex. The cause of same-sex attraction is much more complex than just choosing to be attracted to the same sex. And calling it a choice is deeply devastating to the people who have begged God for years to make the attraction go away. In fact, I just got off the phone with a celibate gay friend of mine who’s been on the brink of suicide several times partly for being told by Christians that he chose his attractions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
4. Don’t say “the gay lifestyle.”
Another celibate gay friend of mine once told some people that he wrestled with same-sex attraction and one of the guys responded: “I don’t think I could approve of your lifestyle.”
Lifestyle? What lifestyle? The only lifestyle he was engaged in was a commitment to sexual purity in faithfulness to his risen King. Lifestyle!
Avoid equating gay people with “the gay lifestyle.” There’s no one-size-fits-all lifestyle that captures the daily life of every single gay person on earth. “The gay lifestyle” reduces a diverse group of people to a lazy label. After all, if there’s such thing as “the gay lifestyle,” then there must be such a thing as “the straight lifestyle.” Would you be okay with this? Being reduced to the “lifestyle” of every single straight person on the planet? Yikes!
5. Transgender is not the same as gay
By the way, it’s “transgender” and not “transgendered.” For some reason, it’s usually Christians who say “transgendered,” but this isn’t an accurate term. "Transgendered" is actually a verb and it implies that something happened to the person; some people get transferred to a different job, while others get transgendered to a different gender. "Transgender,” however, is an adjective and simply describes a person who experiences Gender Dysphoria, some sort of discontentment with their biological sex.
Some transgender people may be gay, but many are not. The two are not the same. A gay person identifies with the gender of their biological sex and is sexually attracted to members of that same biological sex. A transgender person, however, identifies with the opposite gender of their biological sex and is attracted either to the same sex or opposite sex. Put differently, a transgender person is known by the gender they identifywith, while a gay person is identified by the gender they’re attracted to.
Some transgender people seek sex reassignment surgery (SRS, aka “a sex change”) but others do not. So don’t equate “transgender” with someone who’s had this surgery. Maybe they have, and maybe they haven't. And I wouldn't recommend checking to make sure. The point is, not every transgender person can be crammed into a single box—or lifestyle. The best way to understand the myriad of experiences of people who are transgender is to, voila!—get to know people who are transgender.
6. Avoid friendly fire
Christians can get so caught up in culture wars and heated Facebook debates about homosexuality that they sometimes don’t realize how much damage they cause people who are wrestling with their faith and sexuality.
A gay friend of mine hosts a Bible study for LGBT people on a nearby college campus. Along with being gay, the attendees all have 3 things in common. One, they are hungry to study the Bible. Two, they have all tried to commit suicide. And three, they are all scared to death to visit a Christian church.
Scared. Not turned off, apathetic, or uninterested. After all, they all show up weekly to learn about Jesus. But they're terrified at the thought of going to church because of all the angry, hateful, demeaning and dehumanizing vitriol they've heard from Christians and pulpits in previous years.
Next time you’re about to post some feisty comment about “the gays” on Facebook, or bemoan “the gay agenda” in your sermon, or talk to your friends about the abomination of “the gay lifestyle,” perhaps one of these precious people is looking on. They're reading your post. They overhear your conversation. They're wondering if the Christian God could possibly love them, since they haven't felt this from His followers. They're seeking non-sexual embrace and the warmth of Christ-like compassion. Will your rhetoric and demeanor draw them closer to Jesus or push them further away?
I've talked to a lot of people in the church who are wrestling with their faith and sexuality. And from looking on at the hate-filled angry rhetoric of Christians about homosexuality, they're scared to death to talk to anyone about their struggles. They're caught in the cross-fire between Christians and "the gay agenda" blasting each other to smithereens. If someone is shot by friendly fire, the one who pulled the trigger is still responsible, even if they didn't intend the harm.
So be careful where you shoot. Maybe it's best to avoid shooting and start loving. Who knows, you might turn an enemy or neighbor into a friend.