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The word "Homophobia" is a slur word used as an "ad hominem" to avoid rational discussion of gay issues.
People who oppose gay marriage and other parts of the gay rights movement are often called homophobic by the gay rights defenders. I contend that calling opponents of a gay rights position homophobic constitutes an ad hominem and has no place in a serious and honest discussion on gay rights issues. It is a slur word.
Legitimate Definition of "Phobia"
The Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed., defines a “phobia” as “an irrational, excessive, and persistent fear of some particular thing or situation.” To have a phobia is to have a mental disorder. The Funk and Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia makes this clear. Its article “Phobia” states that a phobia is “characterized by physiological symptoms such as a rapid, pounding heartbeat, stomach disorders, nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, choking feelings, flushing of the face, perspiration, tremulousness, and faintness.” Clearly, a person with a phobia is a sick person and needs treatment. Just as clearly, millions of people who oppose gay rights positions do so without exhibiting any of the symptoms of a scientifically recognized phobia. Either the word “homophobia” is being misapplied, or is being used in some figurative sense, or is not a phobia as defined above.
"Homophobia" not a scientific term
The word “homophobia” is similar in structure to “claustrophobia” and “agoraphobia,” which denote real phobias recognized by psychiatrists and other psychotherapists. Because of its structural similarity to the genuine article, many people probably think that the word “homophobia” is an approved scientific term. However, it is not. Homophobia is not a mental disorder recognized by psychiatrists or other psychotherapists. The term is not to be found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Origin of the word "Homophobia"
The word “homophobia” was coined in the late 1960’s by George Weinberg and popularized in his 1973 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual (Herek). In a 2004 interview, Mr. Weinberg defined homophobia as follows:
Homophobia is just that: a phobia. A morbid and irrational dread which prompts irrational behavior flight or the desire to destroy the stimulus for the phobia and anything reminiscent of it. Because human beings are the stimulus, a common homophobic reaction is brutality in many cases, as we all know. We also know its consequences. (Ayyar)
"Homophobia" held to be immoral
We might also add that homophobia is just plain bad. Laurence Miller, in an article entitled “Gay Rights,” wrote that “homophobia is all its forms is unethical, immoral, and illegal” (341).
Warren J. Blumenfeld, in an article entitled “Homophobia,” defines it as “the fear and hatred of those who love and sexually desire those of the same sex” (392). He further states that the term includes the “prejudice and acts of discrimination resulting from that fear and hatred” (392).
What does it mean to call someone a "homophobe"?
What are you saying when you call people homophobes? Perhaps foremost, you are calling them irrational and prejudiced. You are saying that they are in the grips of or an irrational hatred, fear, or dread. They are mentally disordered. Their hatred, fear, or dread motivates them. It determines their prejudiced views and attitude, which in turn determines their irrational, oppressive, and often brutal behavior. They are like racists. They are unethical, immoral, and just plain bad.
When you call someone a homophobe, it justifies in your eyes your treating him or her accordingly--as someone not capable or worthy of discussing gay issues. You believe this because your prejudice leads you to avoid discussion that might show that person is arguing from a principled position and not a prejudiced one.
In a reasonably calm, reasoned discourse on social policy concerning gay rights, to call an opponent of some particular advancement of those rights a homophobe is clearly excessive and unwarranted. It is to denigrate, degrade, and stigmatize that person without warrant. That is a moral error. Moreover, it is to commit an intellectual error. Name calling like this focuses attention away from the policy issue to the character of your opponent. It is to attack the person with a slur. That is an ad hominem. It has no place in a serious and honest discussion on gay rights issues. The ad hominem is committed even if the charge is that your opponent’s ideas are homophobic or are examples of homophobia. The words in question are so laden with negative connotations of irrationality, prejudice, hatred, and immorality that they smear not just the ideas but the proponent of the ideas. No serious, ethical discussion on gay rights policy or any social policy is then possible.
Ayyar, Raj. “George Weinberg: Love is Conspiratorial, Deviant & Magical.” Online. Internet. 18 June 2004. Available HTTP: www.gaytoday.com/interview/110102in.asp
Blumenfeld, Warren J. “Homophobia.” Roth 392-394.
Herek, Gregory M. “Definitions: Homophobia, Heterosexism, and Sexual Prejudice.” Online. Internet. 21 June 2004. Available HTTP: psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/prej_defn.html
Miller, Laurence. “Gay Rights.” Roth 340-343.
“Phobia.” The Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. 1995. Infopedia 2.0. CD-ROM. SoftKey Multimedia Inc, 1995.
“Phobia.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed.
Roth, John K., ed. Ready Reference: Ethics. 2 vols. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1994.
Weinberg, George. Society and the Healthy Homosexual. Garden City, NY: Anchor--Doubleday, 1973.