September 14, 2006

Beyond Homophobia

Posted at 5:17 pm (Pacific Time)

Welcome to Beyond Homophobia, a blog by Gregory Herek. I’ll be commenting here on recent news events and public policy related to sexual orientation, with a focus on how research from the social and behavioral sciences can inform current debates and discussions in this arena.

Why “Beyond Homophobia”? Homophobia was coined in the 1960s by psychologist George Weinberg. The term proved to be tremendously influential in reframing society’s thinking about sexual orientation. It helped many people to articulate their newfound understanding that homosexuality wasn’t the problem; rather, the real problem was prejudice against those who aren’t heterosexual.

Despite its importance, homophobia has serious limitations as a term and a concept. Primary among these are the assumptions it conveys. Homophobia implies that hostility toward sexual minorities is a disease rather than a form of prejudice, and that its ultimate source is irrational fear (a “phobia”). Although fear can play a role in prejudice, many other emotions are involved as well. And prejudice is not purely a matter of emotion. It can reflect deeply felt values and belief systems, as well as power struggles and conflicts among groups in the larger culture.

Today, four decades after the creation of homophobia, we need a new way of thinking about the prejudice and stigma that are still directed at sexual minorities. In my own writings, I have begun to utilize the terms sexual prejudice and sexual stigma to describe these phenomena. I’m not crusading to have these terms replace homophobia in popular discourse, but I believe they can be useful in pushing us to think about the problem of hostility against sexual minorities in new ways.

I plan to use this weblog to share my thoughts about sexual prejudice and its relationship to cultural events and public policy. I will also report interesting findings from behavioral and social science research — my own and that of others — in a way that I hope nonresearchers will find informative and useful. I hope my comments here can contribute to the work of advocates and activists who are trying to eradicate sexual prejudice.

Please stay tuned!

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.