AP Drops “Homophobia,” “Islamophobia” From Style Book

The Associated Press has dropped “homophobia,” “Islamophobia” and “ethnic cleansing” among other terms from its Style Book, citing inaccuracies.

The Style Book now dictates that “-phobia” should not be used in “political or social contexts” and should only be referred to as “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness.”

“Ethnic cleansing” is described as a “euphemism” that “must be enclosed in quotes, attributed and explained.”

AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico:

“Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for pretty violent activities, 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.

“When you break down ‘ethnic cleansing,’ it’s a cover for terrible violent activities. It’s a term we certainly don’t want to propagate. 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.

“We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing.”

The father of “homophobia,” the word rather, Dr. George Weinberg, does not agree with the AP’s decision. Weinberg, who coined the term in his 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, spoke with journalist Andy Humm (h/t: ThinkProgress):

It made all the difference to City Councils and other people I spoke to. 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.

The AP’s decision, though disappointing, does not erase the fact that homophobia (or, “homophobia”) does exist and has an accepted meaning in society. And although homophobia may not technically be a mental illness, you can’t listen to people from the National Organization for Marriage or the Family Research Council without getting the feeling that they’re batshit cray cray.

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  • hyhybt

    This could be a good thing, depending on what wording they substitute.

  • MikeE

    Does the AP also no longer use “xenophobia”?

    They are dead wrong in their evaluation of the word “homophobia”.

    Amazing that a press association should have such a poor grasp of language.

  • Ken

    I don’t think the AP should or will drop all words ending in -phobia. A “phobia” is a psychological problem that involves an irrational fear, such as agoraphobia, triskaidekaphobia, acrophobia, and so on. Homophobia is not really a phobia, and there was in fact psychological research that demonstrated it. Homophobes do have an irrational attitude toward gays, but it isn’t fear, it is disgust. They don’t say, “Get away from me!” they say, “You disgust me.” Homophobes do not run away screaming when they see us, they do not avoid us; no, they come right up to us, insult us, assault us, and murder us. That takes homophobia out of the phobia column and puts it square into the racism column. Homophobia is a misnamed form of racism. The AP wants to ban it because it implies a psychological disorder that is amenable to treatment, which is pretty much saying the same thing.

    The problem is very real, but “homophobia” is not the word to describe it. We need a different one.

    Dr. Weinberg coined the the term a long time ago and even got death threats for it. I have a high regard for him because one of his books was very helpful to me in my formative years. He is, however, first and foremost a scientist, so I am not going to dishonor him or insult him by saying that he is set in his ways and would not put personal feeling aside in the cause of science.

    For the purposes of the AP, “antigay” is probably adequate, but it is not perfect. We can talk about sexist people and sexism, or about racist people and racism, but when we talk about antigay people, there is no word “antigayism.” I’ve seen the word “heterosexism,” which is accurate, but has too many syllables and flies right over the heads of most people. Dr. Weinberg was very good at coining the word “homophobia.” He’s in the best position to coin a new word that is short and more accurate, is immediately understandable, and easy to use as an adjective-noun pair.

  • Cam

    How about they just call it what it is….bigotry.

  • Tif

    This is absurd. The AP needs to be challenged on this. Homophobia is killing us. And it is a severe mental disorder.

  • 2eo

    We have a similar furore every few years, the last one a couple of years ago was a few outlets were on about removing the word islamist from islamist terror organisations.

    Didn’t sit well with me then, changing the accepted and correct vernacular still doesn’t.

  • D9W

    Well it looks like AP is out for the Misanthropy award.

  • 2eo

    @D9W: I think you mean “Misanthropy” award.

  • jmmartin

    Seems to me they are cutting off their noses to spite their face. These terms are now widely disseminated and understood in the proper meanings throughout the American public. They are a soft-hand for phenomena not easily explained in other than psychological words, and they needn’t be epithets. More straight people are coming to terms with their uneasiness about being around gays and lesbians and understand they are homophobic. Saying your reporters are not to use such words in their stories suggests irrelevance and disingenuousness.

  • Ken

    @2eo: The word “islamist” makes it sound like all Muslims are terrorists, which is far from the truth. In my area, we have a mosque that is so large that they have to hire off-duty policemen to direct traffic after Friday services. The people attending the services are adherents of Islam, but none of them are terrorists.

    Words change, even words in widespread use, When my parter was dying, I had to get a copy of his birth certificate. It took me aback, because it said he was a negro. He was born a negro, he grew up as a colored person, he was black when I met him, and he was an African American when he died. At every point, those were the politically correct terms.

    Homophobia is the only “phobia” that is a form of bigotry, which shows it is misnamed. Homophobes can point that out when they falsely claim they aren’t bigots. We’d be better served by a more accurate term.

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