According to the Associated Press, it’s OK to hate gays and lesbians or to equate homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia, but call it homophobia and it’s game over.
Who says there isn’t a queer Santa Claus?
The AP Stylebook, long the gold standard in the news business, next year will bar the use of “homophobia” in “political or social contexts,” the company recently announced. Also included under the edict: “Islamophobia” and “ethnic cleansing.”
The goal, says AP rep Paul Colford, is for a greater level of “detail, clarity and specificity. We want to describe the individuals rather than slap a label on them, as if everybody is of one mind about what that label means. A term might have different meanings for different people.”
So if a reactionary religious wingnut preaches that all homosexuals should be burned at the stake, a journalist following AP style would describe his performance as “anti gay.” (Would that make Hitler “anti-Jewish?”)
In AP’s view, “homophobia” does not rise to the level of a real phobia, which it defines as “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness,” such as claustrophobia (fear of being in small, enclosed spaces) and acrophobia (fear of heights).
“Homophobia,” however, is often the result of speculation, AP says. “The reasons for anti-gay feelings or actions may not be apparent.”
Given the country’s heightened awareness of gay issues—the Supreme Court will take on same-sex marriage this week –it’s no surprise that AP’s move triggered a robust response from the media.
“We were absolutely inundated with interview requests, from student newspapers to national radio shows in Britain,” Colford says. “Not every Stylebook change generates attention. This generated more than most.”
That’s because it defies logic. “Homophobia” has been widely used since the ’60s. Clinical psychologist George Weinberg popularized the term in his landmark 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, calling it “an irrational revulsion.”
Moreover, “phobia” has been adopted into common parlance as a go-to phrase, much like “gate” became the suffix of choice following Watergate in the mid-1970s. That doesn’t mean that everything we call a phobia qualifies as a real phobia, of course, but it’s hard to argue against “homophobia.”
How else to explain the irrational opposition to gays in the military, to name just one example? Many “anti-gay” types swore that openly homosexual troops would destroy morale, reducing the world’s greatest fighting force to a miasma of Silly Putty. Lo and behold, it hasn’t, and it won’t.
The same irrational vitriol has characterized the debate over gay marriage. “Anti gays” say legalization will lead to the destruction of the institution, and with it, life as we know it. This myth, too, will be disavowed. How quickly, depends on the Supreme Court.
Again and again, evidence proves that the tide of history has turned. Those who refuse to acknowledge it will always be homophobes in my stylebook.