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)
x
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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs