Why we should stop using the word homophobic


Lexi Kayser – Staff Writer

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Mysophobia is the fear of germs. Hemophobia is the fear of blood. And homophobia is the fear of…gay people?

As an English major, I have lots of opinions when it comes to words, their roots, their meanings. I’m a total word geek, to be candid with you, and one word in particular has really been grinding my gears lately. Perhaps it’s because this word is used so often in today’s culture; it seems like I can’t go a day without hearing accusations of it.

That word is homophobia.

My no. 1 issue with the word is that we’re using it completely wrong. The term “homophobia” was first seen in the late 1960s, and was coined by psychologist George Weinberg. At this time, it was only used to describe the fear of heterosexual men that others might believe that they are gay. Over time, the word has evolved (as all words tend to do) as something different. Nowadays, we use “homophobic” to refer to people that act hateful or discriminatory towards members of the LGBTQA+ community.

I completely agree with the idea that we should have a word that refers to people that act this way. It’s a helpful political tool and makes it clear that this behavior is neither inherent nor warranted. However, the nuances of the word are not only problematic, they’re downright misleading. The suffix “-phobia” indicates a legitimate fear that a person might have. This fear is oftentimes irrational, however, it is deeply ingrained in the person’s psyche, and it is therefore valid. “Homophobia”, on the other hand, is not. There is nothing valid about hating an entire group of people for the way that they were born, the way that they feel, the way that they love. In the case of this word, the suffix “-phobia” seeks to justify unacceptance by labeling it as if it is something innate or scientific.

It is simply not.

The reasons for which a person might be “scared” of homosexuals are formed entirely by the society in which we live. Take, for example, religions such as Christianity, in which the holy book labels any sex other than that which is done heterosexually and in wedlock as “sinful.” Take, for example, the fairytales which we read to our children and the Disney movies which we show them from a very young age, which only represent a man and a woman together romantically and exclude any other possibility from the narrative. Take, for example, the complete lack of sexual education in most elementary and middle schools (the programs that do eventually come to fruition are rarely gender or orientation inclusive). It is a lack of conversation that sparks these “fears,” and even then, I use the term lightly.

A person cannot logically or rationally be afraid, much less phobic, of a group of people that has not once proven to be harmful. It is not LGBTQA+ community that is frequently shooting up nightclubs and elementary schools, or raping women and escaping conviction, or committing acts of terrorism against other groups.

We use the term “racism” to refer to discrimination towards certain groups of color. In a better universe, we would have a similar word to refer to discrimination towards homosexuals. The word “racist” evokes an aspect of a person’s personality rather than an aspect of their psychiatric health or state. It is rare that being a racist can be brushed aside as OK or fair. Perhaps this is because of the structure of the word. Nowhere does it imply that there is anything logical about it.

Of course, in a perfect universe, we wouldn’t need a word to describe these sorts of people at all, as they simply would not exist. Perhaps education and love can get us there, someday.

But for now, we must understand that homosexuality is natural. Homophobia, quite frankly, is not; it is not equivalent to arachnophobia or mysophobia or hemophobia. It is equivalent to hate and ignorance. Nothing more. Nothing less.