Homophobia is a term which is interpreted differently by different people. The two main associated concepts are:
- Prejudice against homosexuals or LGBT people in general.
- Irrational fear of homosexuality (and possibly associated avoidance of exposure to homosexuals or related materials and situations).
Dual associations and usage controversy
Most people who discuss the idea of prejudice against LGBT people use the term "homophobia" as a parallel to racism or sexism (which refers to gender prejudice). Heterosexism and sexualism have been proposed as alternatives which are more morphologically parallel, and which do not have the association with phobia. The term "homosexualism" is a rarely-used synonym of homosexuality. Queer Theory uses the term heterocentric to refer to a similar ontological assumption, and the parallel term from critical theory is heteronormativity. Heterosexualism is an ambiguous term which is used either as a synomym for heterosexuality or heterosexism (prejudice against homosexuals). "Homoism" is not a term in widespread use.
Homophobia as a clinically diagnosed medical condition is quite uncommon, especially compared to the prevalence of disapproval of homosexuality for reasons described as political, personal, or moral. Although not specifically listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, clinical homophobia might fall into the class of "specific phobias" or be associated with other disorders. (See phobia and also homosexual panic.)
For more information on medically diagnosed phobia, see phobia. For something that might be described as "medical homophobia", see homosexual panic.
Many supporters of gay and lesbian rights use the term "homophobia" to describe any opposition to the interests of homosexuals, arguing that there are no rational criticisms of homosexuality per se, and that consequently, there is no argument against homosexuality that is not rooted in prejudice or fear. Opponents of homosexuality (and some supporters) object to or disapprove of this usage of the word, arguing that it mischaracterizes those who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds or on grounds of encouraging what they consider to be more traditional sexual relationships. Critics of the term thus find the association with irrational fear unwarranted, and may further find any implication that anti-LGBT political and moral views represent a diagnosable medical condition to be an attempt to disempower them by artificially medicalizing a legitimate point of view.
Some users of the term "homophobia" simply mean prejudice against homosexuals or LGBT people. But others actually use the word to intentionally associate the idea of prejudice with fear. One implication of this association would be that a lack of familiarity or comfort with openly LGBT people causes prejudice; some might even go so far as to claim that all prejudice arises from some kind of fear, possibly related to one or another "us vs. them" division.
Excerpts from the debate
Gay rights supporter Scott Bidstrup, in a personal essay titled Homophobia: The Fear Behind The Hatred, emphasizes the association between prejudice and fear:
- If you look up homophobia in the dictionary, it will probably tell you that it is the fear of homosexuals. While many would take issue with that definition, it is nevertheless true that in many ways, it really is a fear of homosexuality or at least homosexuals. 1
Niclas Berggren, writing in the Independent Gay Forum, argues that "homophobic" opinions are irrational:
- It is usually not the case, for homophobic persons, that the basis of their attitudes towards homosexuality is rational reasoning, or intellectual argumentation. Such endeavors have, as a rule, been added afterwards, to try to give the homophobia a nicer and more respectable framing. However, these attempts to argue intellectually against homosexuality are utter failures. 2
Christian commentator Gregory Koukl, in a personal essay titled Heterosexism, objects to the medicalization of a moral position:
- The word homophobia has come to describe any kind of opposition to homosexuality of any sort, but its interesting that part of their homosexuals' goal was to shift the emphasis from what many perceived to be a homosexual problem, away from the homosexual activity itself, and towards the attitude people have about homosexuality.... They purposely did this to change the focus of the discussion from the morality of their activity and the social appropriateness of their lifestyle to the attitudinal bias of those who would judge them. 8
The word homophobia is a neologism coined by clinical psychologist George Weinberg in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual in 1971. It combines the Greek words phobos, meaning "panic fear", with the prefix homo-, which means "the same". The "homo" in homophobia comes from the word homosexual, not to be confused with the Latin homo, meaning man (as in homo sapiens).
A precursor was homoerotophobia, coined by Dr Wainwright Churchill in Homosexual Behavior Among Males in 1967.
Internalized homophobia (or ego-dystonic homophobia) usually refers to homophobia as a prejudice carried by LGBT people against themselves and others like them. It includes a discomfort with or disapproval of one's own LGBT status (e.g. sexual orientation).
Such a situation may cause extreme repression of homosexual desires. In other cases, a conscious internal struggle may occur for some time, often pitting deeply held religious or social beliefs against strong emotional desires and needs. This discordance often causes clinical depression, and the unusually high suicide rate among LGBT teenagers may be partly attributed to this phenomenon. (The opinions and actions of others is obviously also a factor in both.)
Many people in this situation attempt to resolve it, at least for a period of time, through chastity. This is an attractive option because many belief systems are neutral or only mildly disapprove of, for example, homosexual feelings, but strongly disapprove of acting on those feelings. Advocates of the ex-gay movement believe that in addition to behavior, sexual orientation is a malleable attribute, and advocate attempting to change it. (This is highly controversial, and most mental health professionals warn that such therapies have not been proven to be effective, and that they may be psychologically harmful.)
The label of internalized homophobia is sometimes applied to conscious or unconscious behaviors which an observer feels promote or conform to the expectations of heteronormativity or heterosexism. This might include making assumptions about the gender of a person's romatic partner, or about gender roles. Some also apply this label to LGBT persons who support "compromise" policies, such as those that find civil unions an acceptable alternative to same-sex marriage. Whether this is a tactical judgement call or the result of some kind of internal prejudice (whether in a cause-and-effect fashion, or definitionally) is a matter of some debate.
Some claim (including Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theory) that some or most homophobes are repressed homosexuals, but this claim is highly controversial. In 1996, a controlled study of 64 heterosexual (by experience and self-reported orientation) men at the University of Georgia (Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?) found homophobic men (as measured by the Index of Homophobia) considerably more likely to experience more erectile response when exposed to homoerotic images than non-homophobic men. However, the homophobic men also tended to report more negative emotions in response to those particular images (not sexual arousal), and the researchers noted that general anxiety has been shown to enhance erectile response. There was no significant difference in results on the Aggression Questionnaire. The group recommended further research.
Fear of being mistaken for a homosexual
According to theorists including Calvin Thomas (2000), quoted here, and Judith Butler, "The terror of being mistaken for a queer dominates the straight mind because this terror constitutes the straight mind. It is precisely that culturally produced and reinforced horror of/fascination with abjected homosexuality that produces and maintains 'the straight mind' as such, governing not so much specific sexual practices between men and women (after all, these things happen) as the institution (arguably antisexual) of heteronormativity itself." He continues, "Homophobia entails not only the fear of those who are abjectly identified (and depended on) but also the fear of being abjectly identifiable onself: the fear, as the word most literally means, of being 'the same as'. This latter fear is arguably a much stronger component of homophobia than of, say, sexism or racism (despite the mechanisms of projection and abjection doubtless at work in those forms of hatred), because the sexist male or the racist white is in much less 'danger' of being 'mistaken' for a woman or a nonwhite than the straight is of being 'mistaken' for a queer."
Homophobia as prejudice
Whether viewed as unfounded prejudices or legitimate moral opinions, anti-LGBT attitudes have been reflected in legislation and have had a profound impact on political debates over LGBT civil rights in general. They have also result in violence against LGBT people, sometimes by individuals, sometimes state-sanctioned or organized.
Many social and religious attitudes toward homosexuality are negative, which some might describe as homophobic. See Societal attitudes towards homosexuality and Religion and homosexuality.
Some gender theorists interpret the fact that male - male relationships often incite a stronger reaction in a homophobic person than female - female (lesbian) as meaning that the homophobic person feels threatened by the perceived subversion of the gender paradigm in male - male sexual activity. To quote D.A. Miller, the "only necessary content of male heterosexuality is not a desire for women, but the negation of the desire for men." As Miller continues, this necessary negation is such that "straight men unabashedly need gay men, whom they forcibly recruit (as the object of their blows or, in better circles, their jokes) to enter into a polarization that exorcises the 'woman' in man, by assigning it to a class of man who may be considered to be no 'man' at all." (Thomas 2000) They regard the reason male homosexuality is treated worse compared to female homosexuality as sexist in its underlying belief that men are superior to women and therefore for a man to "replace" a woman during intercourse with another man he is then subjecting himself to inferiority.
Opposition to homophobia
To combat homophobia, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community uses events such as pride parades and political activism. See gay pride. Some critics of these events say that culturally "extreme" practices at these events, such as gharish clothing, nudity, displays of sex toys or other sexual devices, BDSM or sexual performances, frighten cultural outsiders and actually end up promoting homophobia. Some parts of the festivities are also criticized for reinforcing stereotypes about LGBT people (e.g. Dykes on Bikes , the prominence of cross-dressing, a gay male fascination with musicals, the implicit endorsement a sex-positive atmosphere may seem to give to a promiscuous lifestyle, the problem of AIDS, etc.) Other portions tend to challenge stereotypes, including the presence of religious organizations (some religious organizations and denominations support gay rights and oppose homophobia; see Religion and homosexuality), the families of LGBT people, and LGBT people with children. Much of the color, glamor, and noise of pride parades can also be seen as a simple celebration of LGBT culture, or of life in general.
Some activists also call homophobia straight supremacism equating it to white supremacism. Anti-gay/Pro-family groups see this as an attempt to marginalize those who disapprove of homosexuality.
Some laws have been made to oppose homophobia, as in hate speech, hate crime, and laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Changes to the law are often made in response to pressure from the gay rights movement so as to promote bent supremacy.
Some argue that anti-LGBT prejudice is immoral or unwise above and beyond the effects on that class of people. Warren J. Blumenfeld argues:
- Extremist far-right conservative and religious groups use anti-gay bias to further their political goals. Anti-gay bias leads everyone compromise their morals and treat others badly. Anti-gay bias causes everyone to avoid or have trouble forming close relationships with friends of the same sex. Everyone's behaviour is restricted to rigid gender-roles or punished for variance by anti-gay bias. Even if people are in actuality straight, they may be silenced or ridiculed into not fulfilling their potential by avoided the creative fulliling but stigmatized activity. Anti-gay bias causes young people to engage in sexual behaviour earlier in order to prove that they are straight. Anti-gay bias contributed significantly to the spread of the AIDS epidemic. Anti-gay bias inhibits the ability of schools to create effective honest sexual education programs that would save children's lives and prevent STDs. 4
- Bidstrup, Scott, "Homophobia: The Fear Behind The Hatred". An essay on the origin and nature of homophobia.
- Berggren, Niclas, "Independent Gay Forum"
- Carter, Jarrod, "What do you mean you're not homophobic?". Letter to the Editor.
- Blumenfield, Warren J., "Homophobia: How we all pay the price" (1992)
- Bulter, Judith (). Interview by Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, London, 1993. © Radical Philosophy Ltd, 1994.
- Herek, Gregory M., Ph.D., " Beyond 'Homophobia': Thinking About Sexual Prejudice and Stigma in the Twenty-First Century." Sexuality Research & Social Policy (April, 2004) summary
- Thomas, Calvin, ed. (2000). "Straight with a Twist", Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality, p.27-8. University of Illinois Press.
- Koukl, Gregory,"Stand to Reason" (radio program); "Heterosexism" 
- "Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?" by Henry E. Adams, Ph.D., Lester W. Wright, Jr., Ph.D. and Bethany A. Lohr, University of Georgia (Athens), Department of Psychology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 105, No. 3, pp 440-445. Abstract at PubMed. Summarized in an American Psychological Association press release, August 1996: "New Study Links Homophobia with Homosexual Arousal".
- Index of Homophobia: W. W. Hudson and W. A. Ricketts, 1980.
- Aggression Questionnaire: A. H. Buss and M. Perry, 1992.