AP says calling anti-gay hate a ‘phobia’ is inaccurate but word’s inventor says it is needed and ‘hard won’
The Associated Press (AP) has banned its journalists from using words like ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’.
Its new Stylebook, which dictates the language reporters must use, also scraps the word ‘Islamophobia’ and the phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ which it says is a euphemism.
American newswire service AP has 3,400 employees, scattered in bureaus around the world. But its guide is even more influential as many other publications use it rather than create their own.
Politico, the political news site, says Associated Press’ new style guide says ‘-phobia’ should not be used for ‘political or social contexts’ as it means ‘an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness’.
‘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 them.
‘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.’
Commentators Gay Star News has spoken to understand the point Associated Press is trying to make but say ‘homophobia’ is a commonly-used term and there is no alternative.
But, as Advocate reports, George Weinberg, the psychologist who coined the word ‘homophobia’ in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, told disagrees with AP.
Weinberg said: ‘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…
‘It seems curious that this word is getting such scrutiny while words like triskaidekaphobia [the fear of the number 13] hang around.’
Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch told GSN: ‘We don’t work on the basis of prescribing or proscribing words but this words are in common usage and are commonly understood.
‘To remove them from a style guide because they are medically inaccurate takes us back to the question of what other word would you use?’
The changes have been made online and the printed version will change next year.