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Sexual orientations

Meanings of the words:
homophobe & homophobia

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"Katiegrrl0" posting on PoliticalForum.com (2008-JUL-14): "The thing that is hardest for me to understand is this. I am attacked because I love someone. The next time that you hear gay bashing or participate in it. Think how you would feel if you were told that you are less because of who you naturally love. Then just maybe you will see the bashers for what they are and that is simply people that don't understand."


English is a very imprecise language. It contains single words or phrases that have multiple meanings. Within the field of religion, many faith groups have existed largely in isolation from others. They have assigned a multitude of often unrelated and sometimes mutually exclusive meanings to a single word. For example, there are about 17 different and common definitions of "Witch", seven of "cult" and five or six of "Pagan." This leads to massive misunderstanding. It makes dialog almost impossible. "Homophobia" is another example of a single term with many different meanings.

Psychologist George Weinberg invented the word "homophobia" in his book "Society and the Healthy Individual," published in 1972 or 1975 (sources differ). 5 He defined it as "the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals." He offered a fuller definition:

"a phobia about homosexuals….It was a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for—home and family. It was a religious fear and it had led to great brutality as fear always does." 6,7

The term evolved to mean a general "fear of homosexuals or of homosexual behavior." But the English language is in a continuous state of flux. Words develop different meanings as people develop new consensuses on their definition. This is why older translations of the Bible (e.g. the King James Bible of 1611 CE) are difficult for many people to read.

The adjective form of homophobia is "homophobic;" the noun form is "homophobe."

The many meanings of "Homophobia" and similar terms:

Most people agree that the following four terms have dual meanings -- one relating to feelings and another relating to action:

bulletRacism means hatred of, or discrimination against, persons of a specific race, usually a minority.

bullet Sexism means hatred of or discrimination against persons of a specific gender, usually female or intersexual, but in less common cases, against males.

bulletXenophobia means hatred of or discrimination against persons of another nationality, usually a minority.

bulletReligism is a non-existent word that we would like to see added to the English language. It would mean "hatred of, or discrimination against, persons of a specific religion affiliation, usually a minority."

Sometimes these words are used to refer to a feeling. A person who believes that women are intrinsically inferior to men (or vice versa) is sometimes referred to as sexist -- a person who exhibits sexism. Other times, the same word is used to refer to an action: a person who actively discriminates against women (or men) as a group. One can only infer which definition is in use within a given speech or report from the context in which the word is used. Sometimes, this is not easy to do.

The word "homophobia" is is even more confusing. This single word is hopelessly inadequate to cover the full range of people's negative beliefs and actions about individuals of minority sexual orientations and sexual behaviors.

Different meanings assigned to this word are:

bulletMeanings based on actions:

bullet Actively engaged in depriving (or keepting deprived) homosexuals of fundamental human rights which are enjoyed by other groups. This can be as simple an action as voting in a referendum to ban same-sex marriage. It can be as involved as being an active member of an anti-gay organization.

Some rights being sought by many homosexuals include e.g.:
bulletThe right to marry.
bulletJob security -- to be not fired because of their sexual orientation,
bulletBeing free of discrimination in accommodation,
bullet Being included as one of the protected groups in hate-crime legislation.

bulletMeanings based on belief and feeling:

bulletOne meaning is to attempt to love the homosexual even while condemning homosexual activity as a sin that they feel is hated by God. As St. Augustine who said "Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum" which means "With love for mankind and hatred of sins." It is often loosely translated as: "Love the sinner and hate the sin," a saying often incorrectly attributed to Jesus Christ. 1,2

bulletThe Kinsey Institute, in its New Report on Sex, defines homophobia as the "fear, dislike or hatred of homosexuals."

bulletHate or dislike of all persons with a homosexual orientation, perhaps even including those who choose to remain celibate.

bulletA belief that persons with a homosexual orientation are sub-human and can be physically attacked with impunity. The aggressors are often young males who regard gay bashing as a coming-of-age ritual.

bulletHave an irrational fear of gays and lesbians.

bullet Jim Rudd, editor of The Covenant News and Director of the Christian Street Preachers Alliance has introduced a novel definition: A homophobe is: "A person who is frightened to speak out against...homosexuality." Rudd disagrees with the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). That ruling overturned over a dozen state laws which defined private homosexual acts by adults to be criminal. Rudd still believes -- apparently based on religious grounds -- that homosexual behavior is inherently a criminal act. He feels that some people fear "some sort of retaliation from these malefactors. Consequently, the homophobe says and does nothing while homosexuals publicly promote and maintain their criminal activities." 3

Unfortunately, there is only one word, "homophobia" in general use. And it is rapidly becoming a "snarl" word like racism and sexism.

The precise meaning that a person assigns to "homophobia" is often not obvious. Sometimes a person will switch from one definition to another in the middle of an essay or speech. Many individual and groups fit two or more of the above definitions at the same time; others fit only one. In an ideal world, we would have a different word for each of the above definitions. But it is not easy to create new and acceptable words in English. Until we do, the result will be chaotic.

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Concerns by conservative Christians:

Many conservative Christians see themselves as loving the homosexual while hating homosexual behavior (and, more rarely, hating homosexual orientation). They feel that this is following God's will.

They interpret the half-dozen or so biblical "clobber" passages which involve same-sex sexual behavior as condemning all homosexual behavior. They feel that their beliefs and practices are Biblically based and thus not only acceptable but compulsory to all Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. They deeply resent being called homophobes, which they consider a a swear word, for simply carrying out what they believe is the Word of God. In the same way, many conservative Christians object to being called sexist because follow teachings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Epistles of Paul by opposing equality of opportunity and authority to women in commerce, industry, education, the military, the church, the family, etc. In the same way, Southern Baptists, and many others, during the 19th century resented being condemned for what they considered their moral, biblical stand in favor of slavery at the time. Also, many Christians in the American South supported racial segregation on biblical grounds in the middle of the 20th century, and objected to being called racists.

The English language obviously lacks precision. What is badly needed is a group of words to describe each of the forms that negative reaction to homosexuality takes:

bulletOne word to describe feelings of fear and loathing;

bulletAnother to describe action to oppress gays and lesbian;

bulletAnother to describe moral and religious disapproval, etc.

Unfortunately, such words do exist at this time. Until they do, dialog will continue to be difficult and many hard feelings will propagate.

The definitions that we use on this web site:

In our web site, we choose to define these words in terms of actions, not beliefs:

bullet homophobia as engaging in a behavior aimed at denigrating -- or restricting the human rights of -- persons who have a homosexual orientation and/or who engages in homosexual activity.

This behavior can take many forms: signing a plebiscite; sending an Email to one's senator or representative; participating in a demonstration; voting on a school board; knowingly voting to elect a homophobe; talking to coworkers or friends, delivering a sermon; etc.

The equal rights sought by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (GLBs) include what many believe to be the most important human right: to be married; to have their spousal status recognized and registered; and to be assigned benefits and obligations by the government equal to those received by opposite-sex married couples. Other rights are protection from hate-motivated crimes, protection in accommodation, and employment security.

bullethomophobe as a person who engages in homophobic behavior.

bullethomophobic, an adjective referring to a behavior which attempts to maintain special rights for heterosexuals.

But generally, in order to avoid confusion and to minimize the number of hate Emails, we will avoid the use of all three labels where possible, and simply describe people's feelings and actions.


  1. "St. Augustine's Letter 211," translated in J.-P. Migne (ed.) "Patrologiae Latinae" Volume 33, (1845).
  2. David R.W. Wadsworth, "Love the sinner but not the sin" at: http://www.voy.com/
  3. Jim Rudd, "Healing Homophobia," 2004-MAR-29, at: http://www.covenantnews.com/
  4. June M. Reinisch, "The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex," St. Martin's Press, (1990), Page 147.
  5. George Weinberg, "Society and the Healthy Homosexual," Colin Smyth,  (1975).  Out of print as of 2008-JUN. See the entry of this book on the Amazon.com online book store
  6. Gregory M. Herek, (April 2004). "Beyond "Homophobia: Thinking About Sexual Prejudice and Stigma in the Twenty-First Century". Sexuality Research & Social Policy 1 (2): 2–24. Abstract at: http://caliber.ucpress.net/
  7. "Homophobia," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2010 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2010-JUL-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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