A Phrase to Watch: ‘Openly Gay’

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“We should take care with this phrase, which is useful in certain limited contexts but unnecessary and potentially offensive in others.

For starters, of course, we note someone’s sexual orientation only when it is pertinent and the pertinence is clear to the reader. In those cases, we should describe someone as “openly” gay only to distinguish him or her from others who may be gay but are not open about their orientation. For example, it makes sense to say “so-and-so was the state’s first openly gay legislator,” because there may well have been other gay legislators who did not reveal that fact.

But in most other contexts where sexual orientation is relevant, we can simply state that someone is gay without the “openly.” Using the modifier when it’s not necessary suggests that there is still something surprising about not concealing one’s orientation.”

Questions of grammar, usage, and style encountered by writers and editors at the New York Times.


Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries and the novel Happy Baby. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus. His feature film debut, About Cherry, was distributed by IFC. His second movie, based on his novel Happy Baby, is forthcoming. More from this author →