Yesterday, I read a very strange but interesting article in the Chicago Tribune. I found it strange because the article presents an anonymous retraction of an accusation of homophobia that appeared in some vaguely referenced article published last week. You can't tell who is offering the retraction, what the article was actually about or when, just exactly, the article appeared in print.
Nonetheless, I found the piece interesting because the writer challenges the use of the term "homophobia" on the grounds that it is a clinical description that is "unfairly broad to the point of inaccuracy." I'm not so concerned about the "unfairness" in this instance, but I would agree that the term is inaccurate. That's why I generally avoid using the word.
I've always had something of a problem with the casual application of the word homophobia (coined by psychologist George Weinberg) to anti-gay bigots in general. Fear can be a factor in prejudices, but the presence of underlying, presumably unconscious, fears do not a phobia make. Consider someone with a snake phobia: the fear of the phobic object is conscious and you certainly don't see such a person looking for snakes to attack. A phobic person is paralyzed with fear in the presence of the phobic object. A person with a phobia often understands that the fear is disproportionate to the real danger and even, sometimes, consciously wishes to overcome the fear. Anti-gay bigots don't wish that their feelings about gays would abate. In many instances, they revel in their bigotry.
As a rule, I don't like using psychiatric diagnoses as moral weapons in a political fight. It is, perhaps, not the intention, but doing so indirectly demeans people who suffer with genuine psychological afflictions. I'm sure it would likewise grate on me a bit if anti-black racists were said to be suffering blackophobia. In any case, I think the word bigot is a less misleading word to characterize someone who shows contempt for whole groups of people merely for being who they are. But, I'm not strident about the word homophobia and only bring this up because of the unexpected, quirky Tribune piece. My real problem is with bigots, not with the language of the people they hate.