The psychotherapist who coined the term “homophobia” has died aged 87, the New York Times reports.
Dr. George Weinberg first thought of the term in 1965, after colleagues asked him not to invite a lesbian friend to a party.
He determined that they did not just dislike the woman, but experienced abject fear — a characteristic of a phobia.
“I coined the word homophobia to mean it was a phobia about homosexuals,” Weinberg told psychology professor Gregory M. Herek at the University of California in 1998. “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.”
The word first appeared in print in a 1969 issue of Screw magazine, in an article about straight men who fear being gay. Time magazine etched homophobia into the nation’s vocabulary in a cover story later that year titled “The Homosexual in America.”
Herek would later call the term a milestone in the journal Sexuality Research & Social Policy. “It crystallized the experiences of rejection, hostility and invisibility that homosexual men and women in mid-20th-century North America had experienced throughout their lives,” he wrote.
“The term stood a central assumption of heterosexual society on its head by locating the ‘problem’ of homosexuality not in homosexual people, but in heterosexuals who were intolerant of gay men and lesbians.”
Despite being associated with homophobia for the rest of his life, Weinberg was notoriously pro-gay rights, even leading the campaign to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders in 1974.
Indeed, Weinberg suggested those who displayed characteristics of homophobia to be the ones worthy of the mental disorder classification, writing as such in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual.
In a 2012 article for Huffington Post, Weinberg wrote that “‘homophobia’ was exactly the concept that gay men and lesbians needed to achieve liberation. The word conveyed that gay people were not the ones suffering from an emotional problem; their oppressors were. Gay individuals saw that there was no longer any reason to condemn themselves or other people like themselves.”
He added: “As long as homophobia exists, as long as gay people suffer from homophobic acts, the word will remain crucial to our humanity.”
Watch Dr. George Weinberg discuss homophobia and the fight against “conversion therapy” on the Gay USA show in 2007: