Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Religious Right distorts facts about Scottish report.

The story is going about the internet that the British National Health Service has put out a report stating that using words like “Mommy” and “Daddy” is offensive to gay people and homophobic. An outfit called “Family First” (it’s always a dangerous sign when any political group says it is “pro family” since that almost always is code for “we hate gays”) claimed “Use of ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ Too ‘Homophobic’, Scottish Nurses Told.”

Family First repeats the story from LifeSiteNews, another Religious Right bastion of distortion, bias, and inaccuracy. And LifeSiteNews claims to get the story from one of the most anti-gay groups in the United States, Americans for Truth. These are people so anti-gay they ought to wear pink sheets and burn Lamdas on the front lawn. They said this new report was “a revolutionary assault on sex and gender norms”.

Sounds scary. Except I actually went and read the report that has the fundies in such knotted knickers. And I don’t think it’s all that scary or wrong. In fact it doesn’t really do what has been claimed. Surprise, surprise, Religious Right groups lie! They certainly know how to exaggerate and distort. They are masters at that skill.

Consider what is being covered here. This is for health care professionals who are dealing with the public without knowing lots of things about these people. Say that you are a nurse and a woman has brought her child to you because of a medical problem. Do you know if the woman is in a relationship or not? You don’t. If in a relationship do you know if she is married or not? You don’t. And do you know if the partner is a man or a woman? You don’t. In light of a lack of knowledge the wisest policy is one that doesn’t presume because such presumptions can cause discomfort for the person you are treating. It simply isn’t necessary. It's bad customer service.

At no point does the report say that terms like “mother” are homophobic or offensive. That was the spin put on the report by some religious extremists. The report is suggesting that people realize that they are making presumptions about others that may not be true and which may cause discomfort to them. Nothing more.

There is no blanket condemnation of using the word mom or dad. The problem is if make assumptions which often happens and which can often be uncomfortable for the patient.

It used to be widely practiced to refer to a person’s first name as their “Christian name” which was discomforting to anyone who was not a Christian. To ask someone who is Jewish or Hindu or an atheist what their “Christian name” is would be inconsiderate. It isn’t a sign of bigotry just a sign that you aren’t considerate and cognizant of the situation.

This is basically the point of the material in the report. And they note that if a health care worker does this it “is also inclusive of all heterosexual couples regardless of their marital status.” That disarms the claim that they are saying the word is “homophobic”. That is not their point at all. They say such terms exclude people and is uncomfortable for them and suggest ways to avoid this. Since when was it a revolutionary assault on gender to suggest to health care workers methods which help their patients feel more at ease in what may be a stressful situation.

They also mention the term “next of kin” and advise language to avoid problems with this term. I’ve been asked for “next of kin” on forms and have left it blank. I’ve been told I had to fill it in but I had to tell them I had no next of kin that I wished listed. I could do something like list an elderly aunt but since she has been living thousands of miles away from me for much of my adult life that would be silly. I would replace the term with “emergency contact”. When it was insisted I list someone anyway I usually list a friend. What they really want is someone to contact in case of an emergency not someone who is literally your closest living relative. Again the manual says using other more neutral terms includes all couples including straight couples who are not married. Consideration is not revolutionary. (Well maybe it is in certain Right-wing circles.)

The final recommendation the report made concerned talking to children. I think they are on the right track but don’t know how to handle the problem. They suggest: “When talking to children, consider using ‘parents’, ‘carers’ or ‘guardians’ rather than ‘mother’ or ‘father’.”

One in five of Scottish gay people have children. But more importantly we also need to realize that some children don’t have fathers, or might not have a mother, or have no parents at all. My father died when I was young. I regularly had people asking me about my father when I was a kid. It actually was painful to constantly have to tell people he was dead.

Some children are raised by grandparents or by older siblings. Now I can see why the term “parents” makes some sense and the child would understand that. But “carers” and “guardians” are silly. A child wouldn’t necessarily know what “guardian” means. I think a better way of handling the problem would be to ask the child right off: “So tell me where you live and who you live with?” A few quick questions like this will elicit the information needed. If he says “I live with my mommy and daddy” you know those terms are fine to use. If he says, “I live with mommy and mom” you know what terms make the child comfortable. He might say, “I live with my gran” or something else that gives you some idea what terms are correct and make the child comfortable.

That is what is key here. You are working with children and you use terms that the child is comfortable using. But suddenly helping children feel comfortable while being treated at hospital, or the doctor’s office, ---which is a scary time for many children--- is another revolutionary assault by gay radicals. Please!

Nowhere does the manual say that the words “mom” and “dad” are homophobic or offensive. What it said was that in many, many cases they are inaccurate and not indicative of the situation of the people who are being treated. And it suggests terms which don’t exclude people needlessly.

I can relate easily because I was raised by a single mother after the death of my father. I know what it’s like being asked for “next of kin” without really having a next of kin that it would be useful to list. I know what is like being asked my “Christian” name when I’m not a Christian. I know people who were raised by grandparents or older siblings. Asking them about their “mother” or “father” is possibly painful to them. This isn’t about homophobia or political correctness. This is about being a good nurse or doctor, treating people well and not causing them undo discomfort of pain.

This is really what the small section on language is about. It is rather disgusting that some anti-gay groups would distort that sort of issue to create a political football so they can do some anti-gay propaganda on the net.

And to illustrate the point and annoy these groups here is a music video from a Dutch television show. The boy singing is a regular on the show and he's being rased by "two fathers" as he sings about here. There are subtitles in English if you don't speak Dutch. And the kid can actually sing and I like the tune. I know this will give the Right something else to bitch about. I can hardly wait.

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