Thursday, November 29, 2012

AP drops 'homophobia'

I have been arguing for some time that it is inappropriate to label most forms of anti-gay (speech) acts as homophobic. The reason being essentially that phobias are anxiety disorders. Most of the actions described today as homophobic are simply anti-gay, those undertaking them are fully competent and the actions they engage in are not in any way expressions of anxiety disorders. Labelling them as homophobic suggests limited personal responsibility for their actions, because of the anxiety disorder link. 

I am delighted therefore that the Associated Press, in its revised style guide, asks journalists to refrain from using the term 'homophobic' or 'homophobia' precisely because these terms mislabel anti-gay actions, and because they suggest limited responsibility on the part of those who engage in anti-gay manners. AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn explains, 'Homophobia especially -- it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.'


  1. Do you oppose photophobia as well, because we're using a word syntactically describing an irrational fear of photography, to label people whose eyes are pained by light? This is just one category of phobias that have nothing to do with fear.

    A second category includes "hydrophobic", which can describe a fear of water (usually "aquaphobic"), but more commonly means a substance that repels water. It also means rabid. And it has a partner "oleophobic" (repelling oil). And "myrmecophobic" things repel ants.

    The third category is what you and the AP object to, but it's long-established, even in atheism. There's atheophobia (fear or hatred of atheists), use of which is increasing in popularity recently, but has been in print since at least 1843. Francophobia (or Gallophobia) is dislike or hatred of France (one or the other term has been used for centuries). "Xenophobia" is in this category, with the dreaded "homophobia".

    I think it's wiser to accept long-standing usage of the suffix -phobia, rather than trying to deny it and censor it.

  2. I hear you Randy, my problem is that when it is used as a campaign tool (ie painting those wo are anti-gay as phobic in the clinical sense) it can easily backfire. Think of gay panic attack in court cases. It absolves those who are virulently antigay to some extent of responsibility for their actions. I do think of that as a strategic mistake. I also think it does a disservice to those who actually suffer from phobias. One shouldn't import clinical terminology into political campaigns to score points. My take on the issue.