These days I try to make an effort to not call someone homophobic. Instead I settle for a simpler word – bigot.
There’s a very important reason why I do that. We don’t tend to call racists xenophobic, and usually when we do, it’s only because xenophobia sounds slightly more polite than racism. The simple fact is that ugly ideas need ugly words. Disguising ugly ideas as justifiable fears is at best a cop-out, and usually has far worse consequences.
Giving bigotry against the LGBT community a “…phobia” name is almost a spiteful act. It implies that it’s just a fear – something that can be joked about or casually mentioned in conversation:
“Oh, my wife is scared of spiders. I’m scared of poofters and dykes.”
And you know what people do to things they’re afraid of? They tend to attack them, and get away with it. No one gets in trouble for killing a spider, and way, way too many countries still let men get away with the ludicrous “Gay Panic Defence“. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s the notion that a heterosexual man, if approached by or feeling threatened by a gay man, is reasonably justified (or at least acting in a diminished capacity) in beating the gay man to death. Oh it’s not expressed quite that way in law, but the net result is the same: if you can claim “gay panic” then you can (quite literally in some countries) get away with murder.
If the “Gay Panic Defence” were a justified action, why isn’t there a “Sleazy Bastard Panic Defence”? That would be where women get to beat ugly men to death who try bad pick-up lines in bars – or wolf-whistle at them from construction sites. (Or if the “panic defence” can only apply for men, why isn’t there a “Fat Chick Panic Defence”? That would be where a young handsome man gets approached by a portly woman. Instead of rebuffing her, he’d choose to beat her to death because it “panicked” him.)
Society wouldn’t accept these defences – they’re vile and disgusting notions. Yet somehow, because bigotry is permitted to continue under the guise of a fear (“homophobia”), otherwise intelligent countries still periodically allow “homosexual panic” to excuse someone from murder. These days it usually just sees the sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter (if proven); previously it would even get people completely off the hook after killing another human being!
Homophobia is wrong from the ground up – not just the concept, but the word itself is flawed. It’s an anachronistic hangover from the days that homosexuality was classified as an illness, and it needs to be replaced with the ugly word that describes the ugly idea: bigotry.
(You may also be interested in Why I rail against the (extreme) religious right.)