Meanings of the words:
homophobe & homophobia
"Katiegrrl0" posting on PoliticalForum.com (2008-JUL-14): "The thing
that is hardest for me to understand is this. I am attacked because I love
someone. The next time that you hear gay bashing or participate in it. Think how
you would feel if you were told that you are less because of who you naturally
love. Then just maybe you will see the bashers for what they are and that is
simply people that don't understand."
English is a very imprecise language. It contains single words or phrases
that have multiple meanings. Within the field of religion, many faith groups
have existed largely in isolation from others. They have assigned a multitude of
often unrelated and sometimes mutually exclusive meanings to a single word. For
example, there are about 17 different and common definitions of "Witch",
seven of "cult" and
five or six of "Pagan." This leads to massive misunderstanding. It
makes dialog almost impossible. "Homophobia" is another example of a
single term with many different meanings.
Psychologist George Weinberg invented the word "homophobia" in
his book "Society and the Healthy Individual," published in 1972 or
1975 (sources differ). 5 He
defined it as "the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals."
He offered a fuller definition:
"a phobia about homosexuals….It was a fear
of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of
reducing the things one fought for—home and family. It was a religious fear and
it had led to great brutality as fear always does." 6,7
The term evolved to mean a general "fear of homosexuals
or of homosexual behavior." But the English language is in a continuous state of flux.
Words develop different meanings as people develop new consensuses on their definition.
This is why older translations of the Bible (e.g. the King James Bible of 1611 CE) are
difficult for many people to read.
The adjective form of homophobia is
"homophobic;" the noun form is "homophobe."
The many meanings of "Homophobia" and similar terms:
Most people agree that the following four terms have dual meanings -- one
relating to feelings and another relating to action:
|Racism means hatred of, or discrimination against, persons of a specific race, usually a minority.|
||Sexism means hatred of or discrimination against persons of a specific
gender, usually female or intersexual, but in less common cases, against males.
|Xenophobia means hatred of or discrimination against persons of another
nationality, usually a minority.
|Religism is a non-existent word that we would like to see added to the
English language. It would mean "hatred of, or discrimination against, persons of
a specific religion affiliation, usually a minority."|
Sometimes these words are used to refer to a feeling. A person who believes
that women are intrinsically inferior to men (or vice versa) is sometimes
referred to as sexist -- a person who exhibits sexism. Other times, the same
word is used to refer to an action: a person who actively discriminates against
women (or men) as a group. One can only infer which definition is in use within
a given speech or report from the context in which the word is used. Sometimes,
this is not easy to do.
The word "homophobia" is is even more confusing. This
single word is hopelessly inadequate to cover the full
range of people's negative beliefs and actions about individuals of minority
sexual orientations and sexual behaviors.
Different meanings assigned to this word are:
|Meanings based on actions:|
||Actively engaged in depriving
(or keepting deprived) homosexuals of fundamental human rights which are enjoyed by other
groups. This can be as simple an action as voting in a referendum to ban
same-sex marriage. It can be as involved as being an active member of an
Some rights being sought by many homosexuals
|The right to
|Job security -- to be not fired because of their sexual orientation,
|Being free of discrimination in
||Being included as one of the protected groups in
|Meanings based on belief and feeling:|
|One meaning is to attempt to love the homosexual even while condemning homosexual activity as a sin that
they feel is hated by God. As St. Augustine who said "Cum dilectione
hominum et odio vitiorum" which means "With love for mankind and hatred
of sins." It is often loosely translated as: "Love the sinner and hate
the sin," a saying often incorrectly attributed to Jesus Christ.
|The Kinsey Institute, in its
New Report on Sex, defines homophobia as the "fear, dislike or hatred of homosexuals."|
|Hate or dislike of all persons with a homosexual orientation,
perhaps even including those who
choose to remain celibate.
|A belief that persons with a homosexual orientation are sub-human and can be physically
attacked with impunity. The aggressors are often young males who regard gay
bashing as a coming-of-age ritual.
|Have an irrational fear of gays and lesbians.
||Jim Rudd, editor of The Covenant News and Director of
the Christian Street Preachers Alliance has introduced a
novel definition: A homophobe is: "A person who is frightened to
speak out against...homosexuality." Rudd disagrees with the
actions of the U.S. Supreme Court in
Lawrence v. Texas (2003). That ruling overturned over a dozen
state laws which defined private homosexual acts by adults to be criminal.
Rudd still believes -- apparently based on religious grounds -- that
homosexual behavior is inherently a criminal act. He feels that some
people fear "some sort of retaliation from these malefactors.
Consequently, the homophobe says and does nothing while homosexuals
publicly promote and maintain their criminal activities." 3|
Unfortunately, there is only one word, "homophobia" in general use. And it is
rapidly becoming a "snarl" word like racism and sexism.
The precise meaning that a person assigns to "homophobia" is often not
obvious. Sometimes a person will switch from one definition to another in the
middle of an essay or speech. Many individual and groups fit two or more of the
above definitions at the same time; others fit only one. In an ideal world, we
would have a different word for each of the above definitions. But it is not
easy to create new and acceptable words in English. Until we do, the result will
Concerns by conservative Christians:
Many conservative Christians see themselves as loving the
homosexual while hating homosexual behavior (and, more rarely, hating homosexual
orientation). They feel that this is following God's will.
They interpret the half-dozen or so biblical "clobber" passages
which involve same-sex sexual behavior as condemning all homosexual
behavior. They feel that their beliefs and practices are Biblically based and thus not
only acceptable but compulsory to all Christians who believe in the
inerrancy of the Bible. They deeply resent being called homophobes,
which they consider a a
swear word, for simply carrying out what they believe is the Word of God. In the
same way, many conservative Christians object to being called sexist because
follow teachings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the
Epistles of Paul by opposing equality of opportunity
and authority to women in commerce, industry, education, the military, the
church, the family, etc. In the same way, Southern Baptists, and many others, during the 19th
century resented being condemned for what they considered their moral, biblical
stand in favor of slavery at the time. Also, many Christians in the American South supported
racial segregation on biblical grounds in the middle of the 20th century, and objected to
being called racists.
The English language obviously lacks precision. What is badly needed is a group of words to describe each of the forms
that negative reaction to homosexuality takes:
|One word to describe feelings of
fear and loathing;|
|Another to describe action to oppress gays and lesbian;
|Another to describe moral and religious disapproval, etc. |
Unfortunately, such words do exist at this time. Until they do, dialog will continue
to be difficult and many hard feelings will propagate.
The definitions that we use on this web site:
In our web site, we choose to define these words in terms of actions, not beliefs:
||homophobia as engaging in a behavior aimed at denigrating --
or restricting the human rights of -- persons who have
a homosexual orientation and/or who engages in homosexual activity.|
behavior can take many forms: signing a plebiscite; sending an Email to
one's senator or representative; participating in a demonstration;
voting on a school board; knowingly voting to elect a homophobe; talking to
coworkers or friends, delivering a sermon; etc.
The equal rights
sought by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (GLBs) include what many believe to be the most important human right:
to be married; to have their spousal status recognized and registered; and to
be assigned benefits and obligations by the government equal to those received by opposite-sex married couples. Other
rights are protection from hate-motivated crimes, protection in
accommodation, and employment security.
|homophobe as a person who engages in homophobic
|homophobic, an adjective referring to a behavior
which attempts to maintain special rights for
But generally, in order to avoid confusion and to minimize the number of hate Emails,
we will avoid the use of all three labels where possible, and simply describe people's feelings and actions.
- "St. Augustine's Letter 211," translated in J.-P. Migne (ed.) "Patrologiae
Latinae" Volume 33, (1845).
- David R.W. Wadsworth, "Love the sinner but not the sin" at:
- Jim Rudd, "Healing Homophobia," 2004-MAR-29, at:
- June M. Reinisch, "The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex," St.
Martin's Press, (1990), Page 147.
- George Weinberg, "Society and the Healthy Homosexual," Colin Smyth,
(1975). Out of print as of 2008-JUN.
entry of this book on the Amazon.com online book store
- Gregory M. Herek, (April 2004). "Beyond
"Homophobia: Thinking About Sexual Prejudice and Stigma in the Twenty-First
Century". Sexuality Research & Social Policy 1 (2): 2–24.
- "Homophobia," Wikipedia, at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2010 Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2010-JUL-03
Author: B.A. Robinson