AP Denounces Homophobia — The Word, That Is

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com November 26 2012 6:24 PM ET

In mainstream newspapers in the coming year, you’re a lot less likely to see bigotry against gay people described as “homophobia.”

The Associated Press Stylebook, which most U.S. papers utilize as a usage guide, now frowns upon the use of the term, with editors saying it amounts to a diagnosis of mental illness.

“It’s just off the mark,” AP deputy standards editor Dave Minthorn told Politico. “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: antigay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”

The online version of the stylebook has recently added language saying writers and editors should not use “phobia” words such as “homophobia” and “Islamophobia” in “political or social contexts,” and next year’s print edition will include it as well, Politico reports. Another change to the guide is an admonition against using the term “ethnic cleansing,” which Minthorn said is “a cover for terrible violent activities.” The changes reflect the AP’s desire to be “precise and accurate and neutral,” Minthorn told Politico.

Officials with LGBT media watchdog and advocacy group GLAAD told The Advocate they are reviewing the changes to the AP guide.

George Weinberg, the psychologist who coined the word “homophobia” in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, said he disagreed with the AP’s decision. When Weinberg came up with the term, “it made all the difference to city councils and other people I spoke to,” he told journalist Andy Humm, who shared the quote with The Advocate and other media. “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.”

The AP Stylebook governs copy produced by the news service, and many American newspapers rely on it as a guide for their own reporters and editors, although the papers may sometimes choose to deviate from certain AP rules. Most magazines and book publishers use a different stylebook, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, or have their own, as is the case with The Advocate and its sister publications. The Advocate expects to continue using the term “homophobia.”