Doctor who invented the term ‘homophobia’ dies aged 87
The man who coined the term “homophobia” has died, aged 87.
Psychotherapist George Weinberg came up with the term in the 1960s, after noticing that colleagues felt uncomfortable when around openly gay people.
His wife, Dianne Rowe, said the cause of death was cancer.
The term was coined after Dr. Weinberg was preparing to speak at a conference in 1965.
Shortly before the event, he had told colleagues his guest at an upcoming party was a lesbian woman.
His colleagues asked that he disinvite her, uncomfortable with being around a lesbian woman.
It got Dr. Weinberg thinking – they didn’t just dislike the idea of being in the vicinity of a lesbian, but showed behaviours otherwise associated with fear.
That’s when he decided that some people’s reaction to gay people fitted the definition of a phobia, coining the term homophobia.
“I coined the word homophobia to mean it was a phobia about homosexuals,” Dr. Weinberg said 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.”
When TIME magazine ran with a front page story on gay issues in 1969, titled ‘The Homosexual in America’, they included the word homophobia on their cover.
In 1972 he published his best-known work, “Society and the Healthy Homosexual”, one of the first books to reject the idea, prevalent in the psychiatric profession, that homosexuality was a psychological disorder.
A fellow psychotherapist, Dr. Herek, said his work was pivotal to changing the way homosexuality was perceived – for the first time there was a name for it.
“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”, Dr. Herek said.
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“The term stood a central assumption of heterosexual society on its head,” he continued, “by locating the ‘problem’ of homosexuality not in homosexual people, but in heterosexuals who were intolerant of gay men and lesbians.”
He was born George Henry Weinberg in 1929, son to Frederick, a lawyer, and his mother, Lillian, who had few qualifications and worked as a legal secretary
He spent his life in Manhattan, New York, where he died this week.
Writing a few years ago, after the Associated Press had requested that journalists stop using the term “homophobia, Dr. Weinburg wrote: “As long as homophobia exists, as long as gay people suffer from homophobic acts, the word will remain crucial to our humanity,” he wrote in The Huffington Post.
“Indeed, the next big step should be to add ‘homophobia’ to the official list of mental disorders — not to cleanse the language of it.”