Although I believe homophobia is detrimental to society and it is our duty to make an effort to phase it out, this article is actually advocating the end of the use of the term “homophobia” to describe discrimination against homosexuals. Most people’s Latin is basic enough to discern the root of the term and can loosely define homophobia as fear of the same, specifically fear of homosexuals. My problem with this is that most people who are considered “homophobic” are not fearful, whether they admit it or not.
A University of Arkansas study determined that “homophobia originates not out of fear or anxiety – as true phobias do – but from feelings of disgust.” A UC Davis paper described the pitfalls of “homophobia” as characterizing this prejudice as a phobia makes “assumptions about the motivations underlying negative attitudes.” Instead, the paper advocates the use of “sexual prejudice” to describe discrimination against homosexuals. Other alternatives proposed include homonegativity and homosexism (Jung, Patricia. Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge).
Why does it matter if “homophobia” mischaracterizes the motivations of prejudice? Many people who are prejudicial against homosexual exempt themselves from being homophobic because they are not fearful of homosexuality. Instead, their discriminatory mindset is based on disgust or contempt (whatever the source). They are thus improperly excluded by the term. We don’t call racists “ethniphobic”. If a man harbors false assumptions about women, we call him sexist, not “feminphobic.” So why do we have the term “homophobic”?
This comes to some root of the concept of homosexuality as contagion. Homosexuality was sometimes considered a contamination, which could spread and infect others. While this may sound archaic and obsolete, simply look at the Protect Marriage’s commercials in the Proposition 8 campaign. The idea of homosexuality as an infection is still relevant to a substantial proportion of the population. Calling them homophobic only legitimizes their fear. They want to play the victim rather than the oppressor. They’re not discriminating because of irrational animosity or moral reprobation; they’re fighting the good fight against homosexuals. They are the bullies, not the targets. Let’s not give them this angle from which to appeal.
Even many who favor discrimination against homosexuals can at least agree that homophobia does not adequately describe them. I can imagine many hatemongers would violently oppose being called fearful in any capacity. Some are even openly hateful and might enjoy being called “homosexists” than “homophobes.” Hopefully eliminating the term “homophobia” is at least one thing both sides can agree on.