A phobia is an irrational fear of something. An intolerance to something is usually an -ism, not a -phobia, as in

  • sexism
  • racism
  • ageism

Yet people who object to homosexual practices or discriminate against homosexuals are labelled "homophobic" and their intolerance is labelled "homophobia". But homophobia should logically be an irrational fear of things that are the same (and indeed is listed with both meanings in this list of phobias) and an intolerance to a particular sexuality should surely be sexualism, sexualityism, or a similar word.

So... how did the "sexualism" meaning of "homophobia" come about? Is there another word for intolerance of / discrimination against people of a particular sexuality that doesn't imply irrationality or fear?

  • 2
    Downvoter: care to give a reason? It's a perfectly valid, answerable question, isn't it? – Waggers Sep 15 '11 at 12:09
  • 4
    I have a feeling the down-voter is someone who doesn't quite like the topic – Thursagen Sep 15 '11 at 12:21
  • 4
    Aside from the historic roots of the word homophobia, "sexism" was already taken (should have been "genderism" anyway), and "sexualityism" is too hard to pronounce. I think it would be nice, though, to have a word for "aversion to homosexual behavior" that does not imply that either homosexuality, or said aversion, is a disease. – JeffSahol Sep 15 '11 at 13:26
  • 2
    @JeffSahol - Actually, I rather like this word. It nicely points out the underlying fear behind the prejudiced behavor, and holds the perpetrators up as people to be pitied, not hated. Its a shame we can't do that with some of the other "isims" in the language. – T.E.D. Sep 15 '11 at 14:00
  • 2
    The term is incorrectly used by people who support homosexual behavior. It's used to portray people who oppose homosexualism as biggots and thus say they have a phobia instead of saying they simply object to it. (It's similar to using alarmist instead of skeptic). – cpburnz Sep 15 '11 at 14:38

From the etymology


by 1971, from homo- (2) + -phobia. Related: Homophobe; homophobia

(which is said to date from 1969)

it points to the second meaning of homo, which is the slang version

comb. form meaning "homosexual," abstracted since early 20c. from homosexual

This can be read as a "phobia (fear) of homosexuals"

As @Mr Shiny's answer says, George Weinberg introduced this word "to refer to heterosexual men's fear that others might think they are gay"

Later Kenneth Smith was the first person to use homophobia as a personality profile to describe the psychological aversion to homosexuality.


Wikipedia states that this word was originally coined to refer to a straight man's fear that others might think he was gay. Its scope expanded to include all anti-homosexual prejudices within a few years when activists started using it. George Weinberg, a psychologist, considered these prejudices to be a literal fear and not simply prejudice. (Perhaps another way of looking at this is why isn't racism racephobia?)

  • 1
    @T.E.D. or a fear that you are yourself gay and so you blame all the others for 'tempting' you. The same way that the medieval church blamed women for men's lust. – mgb Sep 15 '11 at 15:19
  • 3
    @Mr. Shiny and New 安宇: Racism is roughly equivalent to xenophobia. Noting that only causes more confusion-- xenophobia is fear of that which is different and homophobia indicates fear of the same. Taking it a step further, sexism should probably be called genderism, and discrimination based on certain sexual preferences might logically be called fetishism, but the current definition of fetishism doesn't relate to discrimination at all. – oosterwal Sep 15 '11 at 18:29
  • 2
    @Albertus: In this case the etymology of the word is clearly indicating that the phobia was originally intended to mean "fear". The etymology of the word isn't its current meaning, but it does explain the somewhat counter-intuitive nature of the word. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Mar 31 '14 at 14:22
  • 1
    @Mr. Shiny and New 安宇: I actually think your answer is right when you say that "its scope expanded to include all anti-homosexual prejudices", but I believe it would be even more neutral and exact to say that if you discriminate, object to or simply dislike homosexuality (for whatever reason, rational or not) you are labelled homophobic. Not my case at all, by the way. – Albertus Mar 31 '14 at 14:49
  • 1
    @Albertus: The point of this answer was not to document everything about the current use of the word, but rather to explain why the word has -phobia in it. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Mar 31 '14 at 18:32

protected by tchrist Apr 3 '14 at 0:05

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.