views updated Jun 11 2018


The term homophobia once referred to fear of men but later came to mean fear or hatred of homosexuals. As with racism, it is a negatively charged word. It was coined by the psychologist George Weinberg, who used it in his 1971 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. A phobia is an irrational fear bordering on a disorder. Calling antigay bias irrational implies that hating or fearing homosexuals is not sensible, normal, or healthy. Some people who stress the bias aspect of homophobia prefer the term heterosexism or heterosexist, which refers to the privileging of heterosexuality over other kinds of sexual expression, including but not limited to homosexuality. Heterosexism also stresses the social aspect of homophobia as a learned and culturally reinforced set of attitudes rather than an illness or an irrational fear.


Homophobia most often is used to characterize two kinds of attitudes: self-hatred and antigay bias. Self-hatred and shame about one's homosexuality often are referred to as internalized homophobia, implying that a homosexual person has adopted socially negative attitudes about homosexuality and that those attitudes damage that person's self-esteem. Trying to pass as a heterosexual or to cure oneself of homosexuality is seen by many people as a sign of internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia also can be more subtle; one can be an acknowledged gay man and still not be like other gay men, or can be an acknowledged lesbian who refuses to hire or promote other lesbians.

Internalized homophobia can manifest itself as gender normativity or conservativism, as in the case of a butch gay man who hates male effeminacy or a lipstick lesbian who finds butch women disgusting. Embracing normativity by marrying and having children with an opposite-sex partner rather than living as an acknowledged lesbian or gay man may be viewed by European and North American middle-class gay men and lesbians as a sign of internalized homophobia, though people's lifestyle choices can be influenced strongly by economic factors, cultural factors such as patriarchy and religious intolerance of homosexuality, and political regimes that make it dangerous to live openly as a homosexual man or a lesbian.

Antigay bias also can be interpreted as a sign of internalized homophobia; the classic example is a man who bashes gay men because he needs to prove to himself and others that he is heterosexual. Some men who have had a homosexual experience express their shame by hurting their partners or other gay men. The so-called homosexual panic or gay panic defense was used in several cases in the 1990s in which gay men were hurt or murdered by homophobes who then asserted that their violent actions resulted from temporary psychosis brought on by the victim's sexual proposition. Although the defense usually did not result in acquittal, it sometimes resulted in lesser charges or reduced sentences. Acceptance of gay panic as a reduced-capacity defense was a measure of homophobic attitudes in society more generally. As homosexuality became accepted more widely, the homosexual panic defense was allowed less frequently. It was attempted in the Matthew Shepard (1976–1998) murder case, in which the men who killed Shepard claimed that he had propositioned them sexually; however, the judge threw it out as a type of temporary insanity defense not allowed in Wyoming.

There are many theories about how homophobia originated and why it is still prevalent in many places. Many religions have condemned homosexual behavior, usually male, because it is not procreative, and that prejudice has continued even in a time of concern about overpopulation. The modern invention of the homosexual as an identity rather than a set of behaviors inserted this new being into the regulatory mechanisms of nations concerned with repopulation and normativity, and that meant pathologizing and criminalizing the homosexual in order to control him and, much later, her. Thus, by the late nineteenth century medicine and law had joined religion as institutions with enshrined antigay biases.

When the anxiety caused by mobile populations and rapid urban growth is added to those factors, there is the basis for what Gayle Rubin (1984) termed sex panics, in which public hysteria over things such as prostitution, homosexuality, child pornography, and pedophilia helps shut down sexual variation by drawing lines between good and bad forms of sexual practice. Monogamous married vanilla heterosexual sex is usually the most approved form of sexual expression, with other, similar kinds of sex ranged in varying degrees around it. Thus, monogamous unmarried vanilla heterosexual sex is better than monogamous unmarried vanilla homosexual sex. Promiscuity is usually outside the lines, though it is tolerated more in heterosexuals, especially men, than in homosexuals. Homosexuality is almost always outside the lines of good sexuality because it usually involves sex outside marriage. Because of this, homophobia is often an element in sex panics, even if the panic has nothing to do with homosexuality itself.


Examples of homophobia include gay baiting, which involves taunting gays, lesbians, transgender people, and queers in public; gay bashing, which involves physically hurting members of those groups; hate speech directed at queer people; offensive protests and demonstrations against queer people; and antigay legislation. Church demonstrations in which people hold up signs that say "God Hates Fags" are examples of homophobia. Many gay men and lesbians consider so-called cures for homosexuality homophobic because of the assumption that homosexuality is a disease that must be remedied and the associated need to teach gay men and lesbians to hate their sexuality. Legislation prohibiting same-sex marriage is considered homophobic by many queer people. The military policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," which requires homosexual servicemen and women to hide their sexuality or face discharge, is seen by gay men and lesbians as homophobic. Fear-mongering that equates homosexuality with pedophilia and other sexual offenses is homophobic. The search for a gay gene is thought to be homophobic by people who are afraid that prospective parents will use genetic testing to abort gay fetuses.


Some of the effects of homophobia include rigid gender roles and suspicion of those who do not conform to them; the breakdown of communication and intimacy between people who are considered normal and those whom society labels as homosexual or queer; the stigmatizing of people perceived to have a same-sex sexual orientation and others lumped in with them, such as transgender people; attempts to suppress sexuality by adopting a heterosexual lifestyle, which almost always leads to unhappy marriages; self-loathing; the homelessness of queer youth; sexphobia, the fear that free sexual expression is bad for society; gay bashing and antiqueer violence; discrimination in hiring, promotion, housing, and adoption and foster care; political deadlocks that hurt HIV-AIDS programs; and political and legal discrimination and scapegoating. Many HIV-AIDS activists link external and internalized homophobia to low self-esteem and risky sexual behavior. Media representations of gay people as serial killers, sexual predators, drug addicts, alcoholics, and sexually and emotionally unhappy individuals are considered homophobic insofar as there are very few positive representations of gay men, lesbians, and transgender people in the mainstream media, so that those negative images perpetuate stereotypes of homosexuals as sick, immoral outlaws.


Remedies for the negative attitudes described above include acceptance of more fluid genders and gender roles; political, social, and personal alliances between heterosexuals and queer people; and rejection of prejudicial attitudes directed at homosexual people. Other remedies include acceptance of many varieties of intimacy and sexual expression; the adoption of positive attitudes about human sexuality in general, including sexual diversity and homosexuality; increased public awareness of violence directed at lesbians, gay men, and transgender people; increased understanding of the pervasiveness of gay shame and internalized homophobia; adoption of antidiscrimination laws in employment and housing; acceptance and celebration of gay families; legalization of same-sex unions; and greater acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in spaces other than gay bars and sex clubs. Another remedy would be the creation of more positive media images of lesbians and gay men on television and in the movies, the music industry, and politics.

see also Hate Crimes.


Blumenfeld, Warren J., ed. 1992. Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. Boston: Beacon Press.

Fone, Byrne. 2001. Homophobia: A History. New York: Picador.

Kosofsky Sedgwick, Eve. 1991. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rubin, Gayle. 1984. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality." In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & K. Paul.

Warner, Michael. 1999. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. New York: Free Press.

Weinberg, George. 1972. Society and the Healthy Homosexual. New York: St. Martin's Press.

                                                  Jaime Hovey


views updated May 17 2018

ho·mo·pho·bi·a / ˌhōməˈfōbēə/ • n. an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.DERIVATIVES: ho·mo·phobe / ˈhōməˌfōb/ n.ho·mo·pho·bic / -ˈfōbik/ adj.


views updated May 17 2018

homophobia A term coined by George Weinberg, in Society and the Healthy Homosexual (1972), to refer to the psychological fear of homosexuality. Scaling devices have been used to measure it, and a number of studies have pointed to the characteristic ‘homophobia personality’, after the fashion of Adorno's authoritarian personality. However, the concept is very limited as it focuses upon a psychological attribute, and tends to neglect the wider structural sources of the homosexual taboo.