AP Drops ‘Homophobia’ And ‘Islamophobia’ From Its Style Guide

Written by Zack Ford

The Associate Press has removed “homophobia” from its style guide, which many print journalists follow. According to the guide’s new usage for words that end in “-phobia,” reporters should avoid any “political or social contexts,” such as homophobia or Islamophobia. Dr. George Weinberg, who coined the term “homophobia” in his 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, disagreed with the decision:

WEINBERG: It made all the difference to City Councils and other people I spoke to. It encapsulates a whole point of view and of feeling. It was a hard-won word, as you can imagine. It even brought me some death threats. Is homophobia always based on fear? I thought so and still think so. Maybe envy in some cases. But that’s a psychological question. Is every snarling dog afraid? Probably yes. But here it shouldn’t matter. We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established. We use ‘freelance’ for writers who don’t throw lances anymore and who want to get paid for their work. Fowler even allows us to mix what he called dead metaphors. It seems curious that this word is getting such scrutiny while words like triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13) hangs around.

Weinberg’s points are valid, and yet the word’s rhetorical power has seemingly diminished — or at least shifted — since its introduction 40 years ago. Perhaps because of its impact then, conservative groups have now created public profiles for themselves built specifically around not being “homophobic.” As an example, the National Organization for Marriage regularly takes umbrage to being called “bigots” for opposing LGBT equality, arguing instead that they “support traditional marriage.” It’s become quite common — and unfortunately easy — for anti-gay activists to draw a distinction between their positions and any “fear” of gay people, though of course the term never had clinical diagnostic purposes anyway.

Use of the “gay panic” (or “trans panic”) defense to excuse violence against the LGBT community suggests that fear is still involved for some people, but for many, the repulsion is more likely attributable to what Mike Huckabee calls the “ick factor.” Homosexuality is increasingly described by detractors as “unnatural” rather than “perverted.” Conservatives still claim that gay equality is a threat to children, but the threat has devolved from blatant sexual abuse to “kids will learn about gay marriage“ — the latter often still serving as a dog whistle for the former. The most prominent forces that oppose LGBT equality reinforce homophobia and even rely upon homophobic intentions, but the intensity of the word may have brought about its own undoing. If news readers perceive the label of “homophobia” as an overreach, they may not appreciate the severity of the anti-gay tactics at work. Framing such efforts around “discrimination” or even “heterosexism” and “heterosexual supremacy” provides workable alternatives.

In contrast, the journey of the word “homophobia” emphasizes the current need for the word “Islamophobia.” As a different concept, it might very well be true that people “fear” Islam, Muslim people, and Muslim culture as a threat to physical safety. Muslim people are unfairly cast as terrorists just as gay men have been cast as pedophiles. While education has opened up new language to describe anti-gay attitudes, rhetorical options for the wide-spread efforts to demonize the Islamic faith remain limited. And like “homophobia” did four decades ago, “Islamophobia” effectively captures the intensity of these vitriolic campaigns.

The AP may have made a sensible decision to encourage more accurate language than “homophobia,” but its outright limitations on all -phobia words may deprive media consumers from an important understanding of cultural attitudes.

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.


Related Stories:

Good News Bisexuals: You’re No Longer a Dirty Word

NOM Now Warning Against Young People Having Gay Friends

It’s Time to Remember: 265 Trans People Murdered in 2012


Photo: acon online/flickr


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

Max M: You said it best!

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

Christopher....go to bed now. The children's hour has passed and Santa is watching to make sure you're a good boy.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago

Homophobia, now that's something the right wing wacko Christians should go to counseling for and do it sooner rather than later, please.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Gee, as someone who has never intimately known a woman, why isn't there an ick factor with that too? Vaginal fluid running like a river? Anything seems like ick until you get used to it.

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon3 years ago

Wouldn't it be nice if doing away with fear of and mindless anger and hatred toward LGBT folks was as simple as having a discussion over the niceties of English language useage?

Lee H.
Lee Hampton3 years ago

You are absolutely right, Pam! Well said!

I actually put this entry under the wrong piece!

I definitely agree with your appraisal of Islam. Anyone familiar with Islamic ideology, rather than the ignorant, politically-correct deluded people reflexively writing here, who know nothing, wouldn't dare say the Islam is peace and love kind of absurdist lies they would.

They, and millions more like them, especially in our public schools and universities, are getting fed that revisionist, highly selective and dishonest form of Islamic propaganda.

People who are afraid of homosexuals need more education. People who are NOT afraid of Islam, especially its Jihadist, misgynistic, freedom-hating, kufar- (nonmuslim)phobic, globalist-aspiring and many other terrible attributes contained in this retrograde ideology also need A LOT more education.

Their irresponsible, albeit some well-intentioned, ignorance is fast compromising the strides and freedoms of Western civilization.

The thinly disguised Jew-hatred touted as anti-Zionism is another sickness that will be our downfall if allowed to continue unabated and unaddressed by the influential people in our society.

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

I wish it WERE "just" Egypt, Lee! Unfortunately, every middle-eastern country is blaming Israel or the United States or WHO KNOWS WHO ELSE.....the fault is NEVER with Islam because Islam believes itself to be perfect!

I've often wondered who they'd blame if there WERE no Israel?

Lee H.
Lee Hampton3 years ago

I'm sure that there are some nice, realistic Egyptians. However, Egyptians overwhelmingly voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, many wildly and emphatically agreeing with the slogan, "Islam is the Answer!"

The Answer to What? Like Nazism was the answer for Germany? Like Nazi Germany, will we see One Vote One Time in Egypt?

Even the Egyptians who did NOT vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, all have a hatred for Israel and massively buy into the scapegoating that Israel is the problem.

Egypt's craven scapegoating of Israel as the problem, and its refusal to take a necessary and painful look at its assumptions about its own culpability is Egypt's problem.

Until Egypt stops its warmongering support of Hamas/Gaza - which it refused to take responsbility for and dumped onto Israel years ago, scapegoating Israel and avoiding responsibilty for the problems it, Egypt, made, Egypt will NEVER get out of its morbid dysfunctionality. It is doomed to stay in its own morass.

The simple fact is that Egypt is Egypt's problem, and facing the truth and CHANGING is the answer.

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

Since people are discussing the LITERAL meaning of "phobia".....the actual meaning is "an UNREASONABLE fear of something."

It is UNREASONABLE to fear homosexuals, open doors, heights, leaving home to shop, etc.

It is NOT AT ALL unreasonable to be suspicious of Islamic motives in the world. All you need to do is take an honest look at what goes on in literally every country they occupy. I can't think of a single nation which hasn't seen Islam-related violence, hatred and social unrest.

OF COURSE it's possible to have an "unreasonable" fear of Islam (and thus, Islamophobia) but the word was coined by those who wish to malign those of us who have read, studied and observed its actions. I've been called "Islamophobic" many times here at Care2, simply because I'm very critical of those who practice it.

Is it unreasonable to criticize a "religion of peace" which wages war on its neighbors, rapes, stones, beheads, genitally mutilates, suppresses freedoms of thought, speech and artistic freedoms, murders those who have the temerity to leave it?

I think not.

But the literal meaning of "Islamophobia" probably is inaccurate in 99.9% of those who are stigmatized with that label. Those who want to defend Islam use the term as part of their strategy....

1. Deny the truth
2. Insult the speaker (begin with words like "bigot" and ISLAMOPHOBIC)
3. Blame someone else....usually Jews or the US

Max M.
Max M.3 years ago

Homophobia; if, in this day and age you still fear gays, then please check yourself into the nearest mental health facility.

Islamophobia; If, in this day and age, you do not fear Islam, then please check yourself into the nearest mental health facility.