In Defense of "Homophobia"

Friday, December 07, 2012


(Eric Constantineau/flickr)

The next print edition of the Associated Press Stylebook will include a new note on the word "phobia," advising writers to avoid the word in "political or social contexts," such as "Islamophobia" or "homophobia." The AP's announcement comes as a disappointment to George Weinberg, the New York pychotherapist who coined the term "homophobia" in 1965. He defends his word to Brooke as both an accurate descriptor and a valuable tool for the LGBT movement.

Do you have suggestions for a word to replace "homophobia" in the 21st century? Let us know! 

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George Weinberg

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Brooke Gladstone

Comments [14]

Ray from newton abbot, england

There is no kind of "phobia" involved in "homophobia", it is just a dishonestly constructed word.
IF any kind of "phobia" were involved it would be more accurately named "sodomyphobia", as homosexuality is called sodomy after Sodom.

Jan. 22 2013 04:40 PM
Jim Kunz

If I could coin a word to replace the term homophopic for feelings of those who don't truly have a phobia and may simply have an ignorant dislike or hatred of any member of the LBGT community, I'd suggest genderist.

The term "genderist" would need to assume a broad definition of the term gender, different than refering simply to one's sex or even one's gender identity. Since racists don't dislike people of all races and ageists don't discriminate against people of every age, the "-ist" portion of my word seems to work just fine. It's not a perfect fit, I admit, but it seems more likely to catch on than (sexual) "orientationist" to me!

Dec. 11 2012 09:42 PM
Bri from Rockford, IL

The more I learned about the gay movement the less I liked using the term homophobia. In the social justice group I belonged to on my campus, we started using the term heterosexist. It's nearly impossible to have a conversation with a person when you are accusing them of having a phobia. People immediately are defensive. However, when you are talking about heterosexism, I've found people listen more openly to what is being said. The blame is much more spread out and not thrown on one individual. We have a cultural problem in the United States that can be more easily addressed than an individuals homophobia. The term heterosexism opens the door to have conversation about polices and less about individuals personal feelings.

Dec. 10 2012 12:30 PM
michael hammerschlag from Europe

Phobia was always misapplied because people meant hatred, not fear, maybe as another dig at socially unacceptable behaviour. But if the word can't be used, alot of simple descriptive words must be replaced with convoluted explanations.

The AP Style book is idiotic, "no number digits until 10", WHY?- I have to change written numbers into digits in my head and as a journo/writer who always writes long, it wastes alot of space. Likewise with symbols- one is supposed to write out things like %, so in my opus article on the Repub Pres. Primary marathon, I had to add 4 lines of written "percent"s -ridiculous.

On another note, some ex-Fox or WSJ hack at Yahoo froze the hits after 3 days and buried it with articles from 2007- anyone know any executives at Yahoo?

Dec. 10 2012 09:53 AM

Very nice piece. Did I correctly hear Brooke hyperventilating when she realized that the person who coined the word, "homophobia", did not intend it to describe all persons who in some way may disapprove of homosexuality?

Perhaps because the liberally politically correct tend to use the word, "homophobia", to describe anyone who is not on board with the radical homosexual agenda?

Dec. 09 2012 10:06 PM

"Homophobic" doesn't quite express the extent to which these individuals want to meddle in the very thing they are supposedly afraid of. "Heterosexual-supremacist" fits them better.

Dec. 09 2012 07:08 PM
Stacy Harris from Nashville, TN

The AP's refusal of OTM's invitation does not surprise me.

When those in charge of the Associated Press' Brentwood, Tennessee office refused to address concerns arising from publication of one of its freelancer's articles, I took my documentation of the article's inaccuracy to the AP's national office.

The response could be best characterized as a veiled threat.

As someone who grew up with the expectation, usually fulfilled, that the Associate Press' content was not only unbiased but beyond reproach, the entire sequence of events was and remains, to put it mildly, disappointing.

Stacy Harris
Publisher/Executive Editor/Media Critic
Stacy's Music Row Report

Dec. 09 2012 05:02 PM
Mariam Touba from New York City

I say three cheers for the AP. If they’ve also decided to throw out the term “bigotry” directed at anyone who does not fully support same-sex marriage, they would be light years ahead of the New York Times and other media outlets.

Dec. 08 2012 04:49 PM
Scott Hunter from Coulee Dam Wa

I don't what's worse: that the AP has decided to throw out a perfectly useful term, or that they declined to comment for your coverage of that decision.

Dec. 08 2012 03:57 PM
David Fischer from Illwaukee, WI

My major complaint concerning the word "Homophobia" is that it violates the all Greek construction of a phobic term. It is a mixture of Latin & Greek. As I am sure that you & most of your listeners know, "homo" is the Latin word for "man." Hence, "homophobia" in the strictest etymological reading would mean a fear of men, for which of course, there is a correctly constructed word, "androphobia." I made a rather recherche comment in a linguistics class that homosexuality was such a normal and common practice in ancient Greece that there was probably no term for it in Greek. Little did I know how prescient my potentially homophobic and anti - Greek comment was. Rather than paraphrase this complex issue, I refer you to the short yet thorough & interesting essay:

As an aside, I would like to voice a slight criticism of your show, which is one of my favorites on NPR. I find the use of the acronym, "OTM" to be somewhat annoying & grating on the ear. Is it an attempt to be hip ? A way of "branding" your show ? For whatever reason you utilize this acronym, I wish you would stop. Thank you very much.

Dec. 08 2012 02:35 PM

The problem is the popular use of 'homophobia' and 'Islamophobia.'

The words may no longer identify phobias. They may not identify irrational fears. Rather, they often identify personal, institutional, and religious bigotry, bias, and prejudice against non-normative sexual practices or Arab and Islamic cultural practices.

So, those are not phobias per se. Homophobic and anti-Islamic hate crimes probably still are based in phobia and irrational fears.

When legislating or promulgating political, religious, and cultural practices, the so-called 'homophobes' may not be targeting homosexuality out of phobia. Rather, they're setting their preferred cultural norms and thereby excluding non-normative sexual practices. This is more sinister than phobias, which can be ignored and maligned for what they are.

So, the real problem is not personal bigotry or even phobia, but rather that public policies are set which are 'phobic' of homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, intersex and transgender lifestyles, etc. The public policy arguments against these lifestyles, while ultimately unfair and bigoted, can sometimes appear plausible or rational in the mind of the public.

Outright phobias do not appear plausible to rational people. The come from the irrationality of others.

The same problem can be said of the term 'Islamophobia'. After 9/11, 'Islamophobia' was sanctified as public policy on security grounds. Many people were interviewed, tracked, and deported for loose associations to "persons of interest". The public believed this rationale because it was not based on 'phobias' but rather 'security concerns.' It may have found legitimacy due in part to the public's phobia or bias.

So what's a better word than homophobia? Just call it what it is: prejudice and bias. Anti-gay bias, anti-Islamic bias, anti-immigrant bias, etc.

Dec. 08 2012 01:23 PM
Christopher from Texas

Will AP be dropping xenophobia? Is that ever used in a strict, 'clinical' sense describing people displaying symptoms of their fear? Phobias are defined by an irrational fear. Is my fear of snakes irrational? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Is it the resulting behavior of that fear that defines the irrationality?

We view a racist as someone that doesn't like or feels superior to a particular race - we don't call them a raceaphobe. Maybe we should be using a more accurate term that describes someone's dislike or feeling of superiority over those with different sexual orientations. Orientationist? It doesn't have the same flow as homophobe.

The gay community is partly responsible for perpetuating its use as well. I am a gay man and it is a label or term we can use to connote a value judgement back at a "homophobe."

The connotations of words influence their definitions over time. While phobias are marked by an irrational fear, have we as a society slacked off a bit in using those words in their strict sense, changing their meaning over time?

Dec. 08 2012 09:19 AM
Rick Evans from 02368

Let's for the moment put aside the stupidity of the word. Homo- means same. Thus, homophobia means irrational fear of the same. Huh?

George Weinberg appears to be intellectually dishonest. It's popular in culture to use mental illness as a stigma. This is how gays and allies of gays use the term homophobia. The mental health profession is supposed to be even advocating away from stigmatizing mental illness. So, if George Weinberg really considers himself a mental health professional why is he using his professional standing to advocate for using a word he coined the way junior high school kids use "retard" as a school yard insult.

It's ironic that gay and lesbian or even "gay woman" have replaced homosexual in journalism writing. Some time ago angry rant by a gay man on a public radio talk program suggested he did not appreciate the clinical depiction of him implied by the term. The media has even widely accepted the phrase "same sex marriage" instead of the more precise homosexual or gay marriage.

Prejudice is not the same thing as fear; though it might originate from it. Neither is bigotry. Irrationality is not a mental illness or no sane person would ever play the slots or the lottery. Learned behavior is not a mental illness. However if like George Weinberg you want to use your professional credentials as a cudgel invent a clinical term for people whose views you don't like.

Dec. 08 2012 07:36 AM

Perhaps the elimination of the word has to do with its rather consistent application to people who strongly oppose homosexuality, but do so on a "rational" basis. It was odd such people were not mentioned in this interview.

I used to be one myself, though I've never been homophobic in the sense described by Dr. Weinberg. I'm now ambivalent about the term, perhaps because I think many who are against homosexuality for reasons they think are rational are probably really homophobic; or if they are not, they have been deceived into being participants in a sort of moral panic about gay people which has roots in homophobia. But how could one tell the difference? And since one can't really tell the difference, doesn't the word "homophobia" invite misuse?

For any alternate term to be legitimate it would have to be closely linked to specific diagnostic criteria and be backed by a large number of people committed to crushing its misuse -- a virtual impossibility. After all, when it comes to "homophobia" this interview is the first time in my life that I've ever heard anyone suggest that it really only refers to a "phobia" in the strict sense.

Dec. 07 2012 10:46 PM

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