The use of the word “lifestyle” with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity is completely inappropriate, unless the person using that term intends on conveying their belief that such things are behavioral and can somehow be changed. 

Lifestyle is expressed in both work and leisure behavior patterns (on an individual basis) in activities, attitudes, interests, opinions, values, and allocation of income.”

As such, unless you believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are merely choices people make, the misuse of the term “lifestyle” is not just about “political correctness” and a matter of semantics.

Political correctness is defined as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

Along those same lines, semantics pertains to “the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings.”

Generally speaking, those who take issue with same-sex marriage and support the right to discriminate against members of the LGBT community do so based upon their belief that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice.”  However, homosexuality is no more a “lifestyle choice” than is heterosexuality.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the nation's premier civil rights legislation. The Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. It did not end discrimination, but it did open the door to further progress.”

I’d argue that the only protection against discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based upon “lifestyle choice” has to do with religion.  People can and do change their religion and religious beliefs all the time and doing so is entirely within their discretion.  Such choices are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

If I wake up tomorrow and decide that I want to become a “Pastafarian” and affiliate myself with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I am acting within my constitutionally protected rights, since the church is a recognized religion in the United States of America. 

Meanwhile, people want to seriously argue based upon their “sincerely held religious beliefs” that sexual orientation and gender identity are “lifestyle choices”?  Sexual orientation and gender identity are not behavioral choices, unlike the “sincerely held religious beliefs” claiming such.

It is incredibly offensive and disrespectful to tell a member of the LGBT community that your choices regarding religious affiliation and beliefs are and should be constitutionally protected and that they should not be entitled to any constitutional protections on the basis of your choices in that regard.  It also bears mentioning that plenty of Christians and those holding Judeo-Christian beliefs acknowledge that sexual orientation and gender identity are not behavioral choices. 

By paying very close attention to the language people use, we can often assess how they arrived at their conclusions. 

When judges deny civil rights and constitutional protections to members of the LGBT community, it’s typically because of their belief that sexual orientation and gender identity are behavioral choices and that people are not entitled to civil rights and constitutional protections based upon choices they make, unless, of course, those choices involve religious affiliation and beliefs. 

I’d also caution against arguing that it’s okay to use such terms because some members of the LGBT use them.  It’s important to understand their upbringing and how that impacts the language they use.  One can accept their sexual orientation and be self-loathing because those are two entirely different things.  A person becomes self-loathing for who they are (as opposed to what they do) as a result of their upbringing and life experiences, both of which center around the actions and behaviors of others. 

As social science researcher Brene’ Brown says, “separating self from behavior is the difference between shame and guilt. Shame is very correlated with addiction, depression, suicide, aggression, violence, bullying, and eating disorders. Guilt, on the other hand, is inversely correlated with those same outcomes.”

Contrary to the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of some, a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is not a behavior, but part of their self. Therefore, you are actually shaming people by claiming otherwise and treating them in such a manner.

The recipient of shaming comments takes them as being hateful, judgmental, disrespectful, offensive, and insensitive, among other things.

The following is an excerpt from “Empathy Conversations – Testing their effectiveness as a policy-making instrument – A Pilot Study” by Dr. Lynne Reeder, Director of Australia21, a not for profit public think tank specializing in promoting new evidence-based thinking about the big issues confronting Australia in a rapidly changing global environment:

Conversations are based in language and therefore the words we use to describe human interactions are highly significant, particularly in the ways in which we conceive of ourselves and others, e.g. think descriptions such as ‘illegals’ versus ‘refugees’. The terms we use to describe others have been proven to make a significant difference in how we relate to them. A recent study showed there was a major variance in the perceptions of the participants when using ‘person first’ language. The findings of this particular study noticed that the participants who received information using the term ‘the mentally ill’ displayed lower levels of tolerance than those who received information using the term ‘people with a mental illness’. Awareness of our biases and assumptions inherent in our interactions is an important component of empathy in conversation.”

Therefore, unless it is your intention to “exclude, marginalize, or insult” members of the LGBT community and do so through “semantics”, I’d suggest that you not use words such as “lifestyle” when referring to members of that community.  Furthermore, I’d suggest that when you hear someone use terms such as “lifestyle” to describe members of the LGBT community, that you take that as an opportunity to educate them, so that people don’t unintentionally fall for the political propaganda used to achieve legalized discrimination against a socially disadvantaged group.

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