[Marxism] George Weinberg Dies at 87; Coined ‘Homophobia’ After Seeing Fear of Gays

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 24 10:26:38 MDT 2017

NY Times, Mar. 24 2017
George Weinberg Dies at 87; Coined ‘Homophobia’ After Seeing Fear of Gays

George Weinberg, a psychotherapist who, in the mid-1960s, observed the 
discomfort that some of his colleagues exhibited around gay men and 
women and invented a word to describe it — homophobia — died on Monday 
in Manhattan. He was 87.

His wife, Dianne Rowe, said the cause was cancer.

Dr. Weinberg was preparing to speak before the East Coast Homophile 
Organization in 1965 when he began thinking about a recent incident. A 
group of colleagues, learning that a friend he was bringing to a party 
was a lesbian, asked that he disinvite her. He sensed not just dislike, 
he said, but also fear — a fear so extreme that it suggested some of the 
characteristics of a phobia.

“I coined the word homophobia to mean it was a phobia about 
homosexuals,” Dr. Weinberg told Gregory M. Herek, a professor of 
psychology at the University of California, Davis, 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.”

Dr. Weinberg discussed his ideas with the gay activists Jack Nichols and 
Lige Clarke, who used the new term in a column they wrote for Screw 
magazine on May 5, 1969, discussing the fear felt by straight men that 
they might be gay. It was the word’s first appearance in print.

A few months later, Time magazine used “homophobia” in a cover article, 
“The Homosexual in America.” Dr. Weinberg used it for the first time in 
print in “Words for the New Culture,” an article in the newsweekly Gay 
in 1971, and discussed the phenomenon at length in his book “Society and 
the Healthy Homosexual,” published in 1972.

The invention of the term was “a milestone,” Dr. Herek wrote in the 
journal Sexuality Research & Social Policy in 2004. “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.

“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.”

George Henry Weinberg was born on May 17, 1929, in Manhattan, where he 
grew up in Washington Heights. His father, Frederick, was a lawyer who 
left the family when his son was just a few months old. George did not 
see him again until he was 18. His mother, the former Lillian Hyman, who 
had never advanced beyond the seventh grade, took a typing course and 
found work as a legal secretary.

He attended City College, where his skill at poker and billiards helped 
defray his living expenses, and earned a master’s degree in English from 
New York University in 1951, writing a thesis on Samuel Johnson. He 
remained a passionate Shakespearean, mining the plays for psychological 
insights that led to two books, “Shakespeare on Love” (1991) and “Will 
Power! Using Shakespeare’s Insights to Transform Your Life” (1996), 
written with Ms. Rowe, his sole survivor.

He studied mathematics and statistics at the Courant Institute, a part 
of New York University — he would later write a textbook, “Statistics: 
An Intuitive Approach” (1974), and a mathematical fable, “Numberland” 
(1987) — but found that he enjoyed talking to people about their 
problems and trying to solve them.

He left math behind and earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from 
Columbia, writing his dissertation on clinical versus statistical 
prediction in psychology.

Dr. Weinberg wrote several books aimed at the general reader. He dealt 
with personality formation in “The Action Approach: How Your Personality 
Developed and How You Can Change It” (1969) and “Self Creation” (1978); 
with obsessive behavior in “Invisible Masters: Compulsions and the Fear 
That Drives Them” (1993); and with relationship problems in “Why Men 
Won’t Commit: Getting What You Both Want Without Playing Games” (2003).

He was best known, however, for “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.

Dr. Weinberg, a staunch and very public advocate of gay rights, helped 
lead the campaign that led the American Psychiatric Association to 
remove homosexuality from the second edition of its Diagnostic and 
Statistical Manual, a handbook of psychological disorders.

“I felt like an apostle of the obvious, and people imagined I was doing 
something daring,” he told Gay Today in 2002.

Over time, “homophobia” evolved from a rallying cry to a contested term. 
Critics, both gay and heterosexual, argued that however useful the word 
might be as a political tool, or as a consciousness raiser, it did not 
withstand scrutiny. Homophobia, they pointed out, was not precisely 
equivalent to an irrational fear of snakes or heights, and the emotions 
associated with it were more likely to be anger or disgust than fear. 
Its meaning had become too diffuse, they argued, covering everything 
from physical assault to private thoughts to government policies.

In 1992, The Associated Press, in a revision of its stylebook, 
discouraged use of the word. “Phobia means irrational, uncontrollable 
fear, often a form of mental illness,” David Minthorn, The A.P.’s deputy 
standards editor, wrote in a column. “In terms like homophobia, it’s 
often speculation. The reasons for anti-gay feelings or actions may not 
be apparent. Specifics are better than vague characterizations of a 
person’s general feelings about something.”

Dr. Weinberg remained unconvinced. The phenomenon still existed, he 
asserted, and only one word did it justice.

“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.”

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