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The term was coined by George Weinberg, a psychotherapist, and self-identified heterosexual. Taught to treat gay men and lesbians as though they were inherently sick, he found that some of his teachers were so "phobic" about homosexuality that they judged it reasonable to torture homosexuals by treatments such as electric shock in the belief that this would cure them.

In 1967 Weinberg began calling some of his fellow clinicians homophobes. He developed the concept more fully in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, published in 1972. In it he defined homophobia as a "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals."

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Though Weinberg used the term in his talks and articles in the gay press, also claiming some credit for the use of the term is K.T. Smith, who in 1971 published an article entitled "Homophobia: A Tentative Personality Profile."

The term was almost immediately adopted both within and without the gay and lesbian community to describe those individuals who both fear and dislike homosexuals. Others extended the meaning. Mark Freeman, for example, defined it as an "extreme rage and fear reaction to homosexuals."

Homophobia is often seen as an extreme form of or heterocentrism, attitudes that privilege heterosexuality or consider heterosexual values as universal. Homophobia is also sometimes used to designate any form of anti-gay bias, from distaste for same-sex sex acts to overt discrimination against homosexuals.

Given its coinage within a psychological context, perhaps the most significant aspect of the term, despite its rather slippery definition, is that it turns the table on those who equate homosexuality with mental illness. The problem, the term implies, is not with homosexuals or homosexuality, but with those who hold negative attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuality.

Why Homophobia?

Why homophobia? Some argue that homosexuality and homosexuals disrupt the sexual and gender order supposedly established by natural law or by God. Particularly feared and condemned are homosexuals whose behavior seems to be atypical; effeminacy in homosexual men, and mannishness in homosexual women are particularly feared and disliked. There is also real fear among many that the social conduct of homosexuals disrupts the social, legal, political, ethical, and moral order of society, a contention which they claim is supported by history and confirmed by religious doctrine.

Clearly, homophobia represents many different prejudices, and a more accurate term might be "homophobias." Elisabeth Young-Bruehl in her Anatomy of Prejudice examines what she calls primary prejudices: sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. She classifies them as falling into one or another combination of categories: obsessional, hysterical, or narcissistic.

Of the prejudices she examined, only homophobia fell into all three categories, making homosexuals all-purpose victims. In the eyes of homophobes, homosexuals were regarded as clannish and therefore dangerous, sexually obsessed and predatory, and the males were seen as like women and therefore not like real men, while the females were thought to compete with men for women.

Homophobia has also been explained in terms of "homosexual panic," the fear of homosexuality in oneself. There is certainly belief in the gay community that the most rabid homophobes are often repressed homosexuals. Another explanation relates homophobia closely to erotophobia, a fear of sexuality itself.

Internalized Heterosexuality

Homophobia is not limited to heterosexuals, but exists among homosexuals as well. Internalized homophobia probably results from the negative ideas about homosexuality that many gay men and lesbians absorb from the larger society.

The effects of internalized homophobia can be severe. Studies conducted in the 1990s have shown that homosexuals who suffer from homophobia also tend to suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and isolation. Such individuals may be prone to increased use of alcohol and drugs and often fail to engage in safe-sex precautions. Internalized homophobia has also been seen as the cause of high suicide rates among gay and lesbian teenagers.

Homophobia in History

If one examines history for instances of homophobia, it appears to be as widespread as homosexuality itself. In what might be called Western history, homosexual behavior was accepted--and within limits approved--in much of the Greco-Roman world, but after the rise of Christianity homophobic attitudes came to triumph.

The concept of and its evil derives primarily from Judeo-Christian writings heavily influenced by Neoplatonism. The change from the Greco-Roman world is emphasized in the Justinian code and the subsequent western canon and civil law drawn from it. Pope Gregory IX called sodomites "abominable persons--despised by the world." The first recorded victim of the new state and church sponsored homophobia took place in 1292, when a "sodomite" was burned at the stake.

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A medieval depiction (ca 1270) of Pope Gregory IX, who called sodomites "abominable persons -- despised by the world."
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