New manual tells police: don't call gays and lesbians 'homosexual'

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard plans to instruct all its police officers not to refer to gays and lesbians as homosexual because it "criminalises" them.

New guidelines, to be circulated to 35,000 Metropolitan Police officers and civilian staff next month, call for the use of "sensitive and appropriate language" when dealing with gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, transsexuals and transvestites.

The Policing Diversity Handbook – which was launched last year and is about to undergo its second edition – says: "Homosexual [is] a medical term used to criminalise lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (LGB) in the nineteenth century. The term should generally be avoided, although some older LGB people may describe themselves in this way."

The Yard tells police officers to "question and challenge wherever possible" the "myths and stereotypes" around gay communities. These include the suggestion that lesbians are masculine and that gay men are effeminate. The document, which took a year of delicate negotiations to write, states: "The reality is that LGB people express their femininity or masculinity no differently to heterosexual men and women."

The guidelines also challenge the "common myths" that children brought up by parents of the same sex are disadvantaged, and that gay men are more likely than the rest of the population to be HIV-positive. "The reality is that infection rates of HIV are higher among the heterosexual community than among the gay community" it says.

The handbook will also have a section on transsexuals and transvestites. It says: "We must ensure that we treat transvestites and transsexuals with the same respect and dignity as any other member of the public." Scotland Yard is creating a category of hate crime, "transphobic crime", to cover offences against transgender people.

Gay rights groups and gay police officers praised the guidelines. Paul Cahill, the chairman of the Lesbian and Gay Police Association, which has 600 members nationwide, said: "We are very happy with the document and its content. Its very existence is a statement."

Linda Bellos, who jointly chairs the Yard's advisory group on gay and transgender issues, said the "invaluable" document was evidence of the improvement in relations between police and gay communities.