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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    Video Energy Lacking at Annual Offshore Oil Conference

    The slump in oil prices that began in 2014 has taken a toll on the industry but all express confidence it will end eventually

    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora