AP Advises Against Use of ‘Homophobia’ in Revised Style Book

The Associated Press put out a number of changes to its Style Book today, with this notation:


An irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. Examples: acrophobia, a fear of heights, and claustrophobia, a fear of being in small, enclosed spaces. Do not use in political or social contexts: homophobia, Islamophobia.

Politico spoke with the AP:

"Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for pretty violent activities, a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don't feel that's quite accurate," AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told POLITICO.

"When you break down 'ethnic cleansing,' it's a cover for terrible violent activities. It's a term we certainly don't want to propgate," Minthorn continued. "Homophobia especially — it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case."


  1. Randy says

    I guess hydrophobia (rabies) and photophobia (eye sensitivity to light) are out of the question then too, because they aren’t fears either.

    I wonder what other word ending the AP is going to redefine for us?

  2. Paul R says

    Sorry, but I basically agree. Homophobia implies fear. It’s more ignorance, which isn’t a phobia. The term gets thrown around way too often. I don’t think that most people who say that they hate gays are scared of them, they’re just ignorant and think that they don’t know any.

  3. UFFDA says

    For the time being AP is exactly right. “Homophobia” misses the mark by a long shot as most people who despise gay people are hardly afraid of them though they are often rather “horrified” by them and what they imagine are the sex acts they indulge in. Many people are mostly disgusted by the idea of homosexuals and “anti-gay” is too lame to quite cover it. Then there is homoemetic (makes them want to puke) which may be closer to what many actually feel but too offensive all around for use.

    There is no good term I can think of so perhaps we’ll have to limp along until, like the overused word “awesome”, popular usage of “homophobia” ultimately changes the meaning of the word.

  4. Francis says

    I just use bigot. Cuts straight to the point. AP should do the same. Label anti-gay bigots what they are, or instead of the term homophobia, bigots against homosexuals/homosexuality.

  5. Randal Oulton says

    Perhaps they’d like to switch people from saying “grilled cheese sandwich” to the more accurate “griddled cheese sandwich” while they’re at it.

    Which is to say, it’s too late to try to correct; the horse bolted the corral on that one long ago.

  6. L'Herb says

    I agree with the AP on rejection of the word “homophobia,” but not for the reasons they describe. True, it is not a phobia. But it is certainly a form of discrimination. They should take a page from queer scholars’ book and start using the preferred “heterosexism.” Not only does it more accurately represent the feeling (akin to racISM and sexISM) but it also has more punch than “anti-gay” which makes it sound like a more political disagreement than the bigotry that it is.

  7. Zell says

    I’ve never liked the word, and I’m pretty sure that it’s wrong in another way besides the misuse of -phobia: “Homo-” as a prefix can mean “same” or “man.” Neither one of those works in this context. Dump the word; it’s not a strong enough indicator of bigotry anyway.

  8. TJ says

    What a shame that not wanting to accept stigmatization hasn’t provided an “a ha” moment for the AP. Although “Heterosexism” is the term I prefer, phobia often describes the reaction. Fear of the unknown that reaches the level of irrationality, which ultimately can be dangerous. The feared group has the right to call the spade a spade.

  9. Bill says

    Should we keep the AP happy by referring to homophobes as “gayists” (by analogy with racists)? That, of course, would suggest to the general public that homophobes are gay, which would get them even madder, but might not be far from the truth (there were psychological experiments where they showed normal straight guys and homophobes some gay porn while a penile plesmograph – basically a strain guage – was used to measure their reaction, and it was the homophobes who were “up”).

    Let’s see if the AP likes that term!

  10. GregV says

    Though “anti-gay” may describe some bigoted actions more accurately, a lot of anti-gay bigots fo, indeed, clearly show symptoms of irrational hatred and fear of inherently harmless traits that they see in othets and usually are terrified of within themselves.
    I have seen snd heard homophobes (who didn’t know I was gay) insist on wslking across the street for fear of walking by someone who “looks gay” or who related stories about doing things like driving around Dsn Francisco because they are do afraid a gay person might pump their gas if thry stop there.
    This hatred of gays and fear of even breathing near us is little different from the people I’ve seen on TV with odd phobias running screaming out of the room because they a kitten or even a jar of olives.

  11. Francis says

    That’s a very good point, Greg. I mean, I can see what the AP is doing and why, but homophobia is very much very real in many circumstances. Really, in all circumstances. Homophobes are virtually down the line all threatened by our existences and progression in society. That’s fear. And it’s obviously irrational. Hence the term homophobia. It’s a clinical term to a personality issue. It’s not just a social term used to denigrate people who are anti-gay. So AP’s decision is somewhat shortsighted. But I do think homophobia is overused overall.

  12. Nat says

    I would not be averse to ‘anti-gay’ if it were to be actually used.

    There’s been a increasing tendency by our opponents to almost exclusively use code language to describe their anti-gay efforts, since it’s becoming more difficult to openly call gay people deviants. Dig a little deep and the same animus still exists, but it’s currently masked under discussions about ‘family’ or the ‘complementary’ nature of male-female relationships.

  13. Steve says

    I am sure homophobia does exist but it is not as common as the AP states. Bigot or anti-gay are much better options.

    It is why I say “anti-choice” instead of “pro-life”. I know a few women that would never have an abortion themselves but won’t deny that option to others.

  14. says

    I agree. Homophobia sounds like a disease, which may or may not be a person’s choice. Calling them bigots or anti-gay would be more suiting, as it implies conscious choice to be one.

  15. Paul R says

    It’s not a huge surprise that the guy who coined the term 45 years ago isn’t pleased that it’s losing some popularity. And announcing that homophobia is a phobia is like saying that a dog is a dog. You don’t define something by using its name.

  16. Elias Barton says

    Homophobia is accurately used (though it doesn’t replace other well-used adjectives like “bigot”). ALL hate is based in fear. FEAR is the opposite of love, not hate – hate is simply the way that fear is expressed. Phobias are an irrational fear.

    And OF COURSE homophobes are going to say they aren’t afraid of gays – yet that’s exactly what they are. Straight men who are secure in their sexual orientation often neither notice nor care about gay behavior. It’s the guys who are terrified that they LIKE it which are the most vehemently against it.

    “Anti-gay” doesn’t recognize the layers that “Homophobia” and “Bigot” do.

  17. Javier says

    I don’t want or expect AP to use a biased term like bigot to describe someone who is against gay rights or homosexuality. “Bigot” is a subjective term, not a neutral journalistic term, and in a subjective context, it sounds like a childish insult. Antigay might be a suitable replacement if used sparingly and selectively. Homophobia is an overused term that does not really describe most antigay sentiment.

  18. robert says

    The AP should continue to use “homophobia” just as it has been used and not try to limit its meaning. For one thing, public perception and usage are what define a word or phrase, even when the word roots or semantics are more limiting.

    According to Merriam-Webster, homophobia is the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.”


  19. Chitown Kev says

    “Religion is irrational. Religious-based fear and hatred of homosexuality is therefore VERY adequately described by the word ‘homophobia’.”

    Actually, both in terms of connotation and the etymology, bigotry is a better word than homophobia.

  20. says

    Sorry, but I agree 110% with Weinberg:

    We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established.

    It is in fact homophobic to deny that homophobia is THE term for aversion to gay people. It is no less homophobic of the AP to ban the term than it was for the New York Times to ban the word “gay” for years.

  21. EchtKultig says

    George Weinberg is absolutely correct. IT IS a psychologically irrational phobia – just like fear of heights, cats, or the number 13 – and should be named as such.

  22. Diogenes Arktos says

    @Paul R: “A dog is a dog” is a tautology.
    “Homophobia is just that: a phobia” is not a tautology or a definition, it’s a simple statement of fact that homophobes don’t want to face up to.

    Naturally developed terms are usually preferable to artificial attempts to replace them. How long have people been trying to find a suitable non-sexed third person singular personal pronoun? I’m still proudly using “homophobia” and “Islamophobia”. Like the NYT did with “gay”, the AP will eventually face reality.

Leave A Reply