The term homophobia is a popular one to use when confronting people who believe that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong (wrong by their very nature). Whether the confrontation is with the continuous teaching of the Catholic Church, or with an individual, the response is the same: “You’re a Homophobe!”
Since the term is used so broadly, I thought it would be helpful to study what the term means. Since the term is based on “phobia” (an extreme or irrational fear of something that causes someone to want to avoid it at all costs) it is clear that it must have a medical definition, like claustrophobia or agoraphobia, which we can look up, to see whether it is applied accurately.
No Medical Definition
The problem is, it doesn’t have a medical definition. “Homophobia” is not any sort of a medical term to be found in a medical dictionary. It is nothing more than a pejorative label which covers any person or group which rejects homosexual acts as wrong.
In other words, the Westboro Baptist Church, with their reprehensible “God Hates F*gs” signs (I think this kid had the right response) is classified in the same way as Catholic teaching, which holds:
This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358)
So the term “homophobia” is so broad that it lumps together people who have actual irrational hatred with those who condemn such hatred.
That sounds fishy, doesn’t it?
The Assumed Principles of the “Homophobia” Label
It should sound fishy. It indicates that the label of “homophobia” is based on certain assumptions that cannot be questioned.
First of all, it assumes that there are no moral problems with homosexual acts. Either they are morally neutral or just as morally acceptable as heterosexual acts.
Second, it assumes that any person or group who does have a moral problem with certain sexual acts is doing so out of bigotry – even if the person or group deny such a motive or condemn such motives.
In other words, the term argues: If you don’t agree with us, you’re a bigot!
That’s nothing more than propaganda and an ad hominem attack. It demonstrates a mindset which is fixated on a certain point of view with the inability to consider any other points of view or motives for that point of view.
The Sinister Tactic
What we have is a label which is used to vilify all persons who disagrees with any other view. Such behavior has happened many times in American history by one faction to attempt to shame or otherwise silence people who think differently. The right winger who called a liberal a “Communist;” the Southern racist who labels a supporter of civil rights as “a N*gger Lover” and so on, are examples of this tactic. Today, these terms seem archaic and offensive. But back in those days, they were seen as acceptable – or at least by those who used the terms.
It argues, “Either you agree with us or you are a vile person!” It tries to make people accept their view as right, and the opposing view as being held out of malice. Actually, it is the person who is using this tactic is doing nothing more than name calling.
The Term is a Lie and a Stereotype
The term homophobia is not a phobia as recognized by any credible medical source. It merely assumes all opposition is irrational, refusing to hear any arguments. It points to a group of extremists and tries to paint all who believe homosexuality is wrong as if they shared the extremist view.
That’s remarkably similar to assuming all Muslims are terrorists, just because some are. Or similar to those who assume all Blacks or Hispanics must be criminals just because some are.
We call that a stereotype, assuming the whole must be this way based on the behavior of a few.
It is certainly a lie to label all people as having a hatred of homosexual persons simply on the grounds that they believe that certain sexual acts are always wrong and that people who have an inclination towards such acts need to practice chastity.
The Dilemma: Who’s Really Intolerant?
Let’s look at the two views – the Catholic view that says homosexual acts are wrong and the pro-homosexual view which says people morally opposed to homophobia are “homophobes.”
The Catholic view says that even though the homosexual act and inclination is disordered, persons with this affliction must be treated with love and respect on account of the fact that they are still persons. Any Catholic who does not treat the homosexual person with love and compassion, while opposing such acts against what the Church requires of the faithful.
Now let’s assume that homophobia is a real phobia. That would make those who display hostility to those with homophobia as reprehensible as those who display hostility to other phobias.
The late comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once said:
“Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only one you can get yelled at for having. Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupis... one of those two doesn't sound right.”
It’s a good point. If alcoholism is a disease, then to abuse people for having the disease is wrong. Likewise, if “homophobia” is truly a “an intense aversion to homosexuality and homosexuals” (according to the OED), then to abuse people for having the “condition” would also be wrong.
I think we can rephrase it this way to demonstrate the point.
If Homophobia is a mental illness, it’s the only one they can hate you for having. “You claustrophobics disgust me.” “You homophobes disgust me!” Something doesn’t sound right.
The problem is, if homophobia was truly a mental illness (as opposed to a derogatory term) like other phobias then the person who was abusive to the “homophobic” would be just as reprehensible as the person who was abusive to the claustrophobic – it would be discrimination.
That leads us to the dilemma. If “homophobia” is a real illness, then the person who is hostile to the “homophobic” is a bigot. If “homophobia” is nothing more than a label used to attack people who think differently, then the person who labels his opponents “homophobic” is a bigot.
The only way to avoid the bigot label is not to behave in a bigoted manner. That means ending the abuse and hatred towards those who believe homosexuality is wrong. Yes, there are people who do wrong in their opposition (violence, verbal abuse) and they can be opposed civilly and in a law abiding manner because of the wrong behavior, and they should be opposed – especially by Christians who recognize homosexuality is wrong.
However, to abuse and harass people simply because they recognize homosexual acts are always wrong is not a defense of tolerance. It is the practice of intolerance.
Really, it is time for people to recognize that this term is nothing more than a slur, and shows intolerance for those with a different point of view. People of good will, even if they should disagree with the Catholic teachings on the subject should not use such terms, but rather engage in civil dialogue with those they disagree.
We should recognize that the term “homophobic” is as repugnant as the term “f*g” or “n*gger” or any other intolerant slur. It should no longer be used, and we should recognize that the person who uses it is intolerant, behaving hypocritically – using intolerance while claiming to champion tolerance.
(edited 7/6/12 to make a point more clear)