News / USA

Gay Rights Activist Slams AP for Nixing 'Homophobia'

Mark Wilson, right, helps carry a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)Mark Wilson, right, helps carry a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Mark Wilson, right, helps carry a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Mark Wilson, right, helps carry a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The psychologist who coined the term “homophobia” is lashing out at the Associated Press for discouraging its use in the latest Stylebook, saying the decision reverses progress that has been made in changing the public’s view of gays.

George Weinberg said since he introduced the word "homophobia" in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, it has been immensely effective in showing that it's the people who are prejudiced against gays who have a psychological problem, not gays themselves.

“Its power was that it showed this is an emotional aversion to people who live differently, who are totally harmless. It comes from the gut and it resulted in violence and robbing people of privileges, and it obviously wasn’t simply being anti-gay,” Weinberg said in an interview Tuesday.

Neutrality first

AP’s Ask the Editor column suggests the global news agency would rather use neutral phrasing rather than try to pathologize bigotry.

“Phobia means irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. In terms like homophobia, it's often speculation. The reasons for anti-gay feelings or actions may not be apparent. Specifics are better than vague characterizations of a person's general feelings about something,” according to the column run by AP Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn.

Like “homophobia,” AP’s latest stylebook also advises against using “Islamophobia” in political or social contexts and discourages the use of “ethnic cleansing” because it is a “euphemism for pretty violent activities,” Minthorn told POLITICO.

Paul Colford, director of media relations, said in an email that the entry in question is among dozens that are added or amended during the year.

Pathologizing bigotry

Weinberg, whose advocacy helped get “homosexuality” removed as a diagnostic category from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), said not only should “homophobia” be in the AP Stylebook, it should be added to the DSM.

“If I am a landlord and I can’t stand the fact that there are two gay women living on the fourth floor and I can’t sleep at night and I try to get legislation to get them out, or hit my head against the wall, that’s a pathology,” he said.

Weinberg, who is not gay, spent years in the 1960s and 1970s trying to persuade police officers, city councilors and other psychologists in New York to take violence and discrimination against gays seriously. He said giving a name to the people perpetrating the offenses gives the persecuted a greater sense of wellbeing.

“If I know that you have a problem, then when you discriminate against me, it gives me a little more of a chance to have dignity and a life,” Weinberg said. “I can enjoy being who I am, whether it’s gay or being black or being a woman, if I know that the other guy has the problem and not me.”

Culture of words

The AP Stylebook, which calls itself the “Journalist’s bible, wherever you are” on its website, sets the standard for use of the English language in newsrooms around the world. Journalists who use the guide reach audiences in the millions.

“Words shape culture and words reflect culture,” said linguist Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for The Boston Globe newspaper. “The fact that a word like ‘homophobia’ was coined in the 1960s in the first place was a way to reflect certain social trends and phenomena.”

But words are always available for reconsideration and rethought, he said, adding that he’s not so sure the AP made the right decision to drop the word “homophobia.”

“Words ending in ‘phobia’ are commonly used outside of clinical contexts. You can think about the word ‘xenophobia,’ which has been around for more than a century to refer to hatred of foreigners. That’s not a clinical condition in the same way that ‘homophobia’ isn’t a clinical diagnosis,” Zimmer said.

As revered as the AP Stylebook is, every news organization is free to make its own decisions and, even if “homophobia” is wiped from the AP’s texts, Zimmer said the meaning won't disappear so easily.

Clarification: An earlier version of this report said the AP declined VOA's request for an interview. Paul Colford, director of media relations, said in an email that the AP would "decline this request, with thanks." He provided VOA material available on the AP website and referred to previous comments made to POLITICO.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: James from: Germany
December 08, 2012 4:38 PM
I think AP's decision is exactly right. This term has been broadly and haphazardly applied as a political tool and its accuracy is almost never established. Most of what American society believes about homosexuality, good and bad, is based on myth. This idea that someone who is anti-gay is somehow sick is a myth. The same idea is often taken further to insinuate that anyone who is extremely anti-gay is probably gay themself. This is also a myth. There is almost no science behind why we discriminate against or support gay people--most of what we believe is the product of our emotionally-charged responses. The doctor should be censured for his faulty reasoning and emotionally- rather than scientifically-based advocacy.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs