The semantic problem with homophobia

Sometimes I wish we had another word in the english language… this tends to happen when I see “homophobia” thrown around in gay rights statements; the goal seems to be to shock the reader into instantly siding with the writer or raging against a designated opponent or group.  It’s typically in the form “homophobic group x”, or “well-known homophobe y” etc.

Now, before I start, I need to explain that I *do* believe homophobia exists, and it’s a horrible, horrible thing.  I even agree that some of our opponents are homophobes.

But here’s my key point:

A phobia is a disease.

Bigotry is a chosen course of action.

Let’s break it down:

Homophobia comes from two greek roots, “Homo” meaning “Same” and “Phobos” meaning “fear” – put those together and you have fear of sameness.  Homoerotiphobia (homo, eros, phobos) or homophilophobia (homo, philia, phobos) might be closer to actually describing what we currently label homophobia.

That level of semantics aside, the question needs to be asked, “what exactly is a phobia?”

According to the American Psychiatric Association,  ‘“Homophobia” is a term that refers to the irrational fear and prejudice against homosexual persons.’ In another page, a “phobia” “is an abnormally fearful response to a danger that is imagined or is irrationally exaggerated”… is it any wonder there’s confusion about this word?  We’re using a clinical diagnosis to describe prejudice!? Strong phobias require treatment, not attack.

I personally am an arachnophobe and an acrophobe, and I’d suggest that the symptoms I experience when I see a spider or have to do stuff at heights are vastly different to most “homophobes”‘ reactions to meeting me…

Homophobia implies a level of fear, and typically the response is that they’re not fearful… attacking the phobia portion rather than the prejudice statement. Because they’re not afraid… their base emotion seems to be contempt, honestly. My dealings with what most people would label homophobes seem to wind up with them showing me haughty derision, looking down on me and essentially feeling sorry for me because I don’t even understand why I’m “wrong”.  It’s out-and-out prejudice.  Out and out bigotry.  They’re not homophobes.  They’re just bigots.

And because homophobia implies fear, there is no room to label a statement or position “homophobic” without labelling the person or entity making it as such as well, even if it’s a one-off statement.  “Homophobia” short-circuits conversations much more so than racist, or sexist, or ageist.  It puts people on a personal emotional defensive rather than promoting an intellectual discussion.

So what do we do?  We’re now in a catch-22… If we use a new word, people won’t necessarily know what it means, but when we use the current word, people choose to argue against the definition we don’t mean.  Let’s make a new word for prejudice.  I think it needs to be an -ism/ist word… unfortunately the short words were all taken… sexism, racism… “Sexual-orientationism” doesn’t quite cut it, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue… I thought about queerism, but it’s too specific… sexualitism?

I believe we need a word besides homophobia to specifically deal with prejudice for a couple of reasons.  I think it needs to have connotations along the same lines as racist or sexist. I think it needs to be able to convey issue with a statement, not an individual.  I think it needs to be neutral (not “queer” and not “straight”,but a word that describes discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation)

Maybe you could suggest some more words in the comments?  Let’s see if we can coin a word!

eThankfulness for 29 July – Relay For Life Edition

Today and yesterday were very special days for me, and so many things I am thankful for this week centre around them.

I am grateful for:

The monumental effort that Relay For Life Organisers put in to make Gladstone’s Relay for Life so amazing

The chance to catch up with Tannum High Staff I haven’t seen in months!

The Tannum High Team that really gets into the spirit of the Relay – we always have a whacky tent and costumes and things, we really have fun while we’re there.

The event that generates such camaraderie across teams.  500-odd people joining together on the night for a fantastic cause.

The wonderful woman who gave me a cup of coffee in the small hours of themorning since its intended recipient was sleeping…

The opportunity to raise funds to fight cancer

All the people who donated, taking the funds raised for this Relay so far (still some to come in) to a record-breaking $210,000+!

The RDO tomorrow that will let me recover from the walking I did overnight.

The amazing weather that was put on for the Relay (and, incidentally, for my open house, which got visitors!)

The opportunity to memorialise those relatives I’ve lost to cancer.

For these things, and a great many more, I am truly thankful!

Why Civil Unions aren’t enough

Looking at what’s been in the Queer news recently, there’s not much inspiring to write about.  So I’m going to talk a bit about why a Federal Civil Union scheme alongside the existing Marriage Act is not right, why we as a community and I as an individual cannot accept it as sufficient.

Personally, I have no specific attachment to the word “Marriage” in law. I have often been heard to say “I don’t care if you call it the legal state of Booglyboo, as long as it’s the peak relationship and everyone has the same access to it under the law”

And I don’t.  If your attachment to the word “Marriage” is strictly religious, then campaign to have its definition removed from law and put solely in the hands of the church.  If your concerns over same-sex marriage are not based in religion or simply tradition based on religion, I am curious to talk to you and learn about your motivations.

So why do I campaign for Marriage Equality and not accept Malcolm Turnbull’s suggested solution of a Civil Union? After all, it’s official acknowledgement of a relationship with all of the same legal protections and responsibilities as Marriage, right?  If it does the same thing, it’s equal, right?

This isn’t the first time this line of thinking has been employed…

C coloredseatedinrear

African american citizens sitting in the rear of the bus in compliance with florida segregation law posters

They’re all getting to the same destination at the same time, isn’t that equal?


They both supply the same water, right?  Doesn’t that mean they’re equal? Of course not!  “Separate but equal” has never been a policy of real equality.  It wasn’t for African-Americans, and it’s not going to be for the GLBTI community.

If you take this sign and change the labels to fit the current situation, we get…

    Legal Protection

<——-        ——->

Straight             Gay

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t look any better to me…

That’s why a parallel scheme is not good enough.  That’s why it’s not right.  Because it’s not equal. Rule of thumb: if you’d feel odd about switching out the word “gay” or “same-sex” and putting “black” or “inter-racial”, you’re probably arguing for discrimination.

Straight and gay should be equal under the law.  They should have access to all legal institutions regardless of the gender of the partners. Marriage, Civil Unions, Oogaboogaboo… but if you’re not calling it marriage, take that word out of the legal system.

The movement grows

I’ve been turning over in my head what to write about… from the allegations by Rudd that Julia did a deal with the devilishly fundamental ACL to Big Brother’s Farmer Dave being appointed to the QLD HIV council.

Honestly, I think the biggest and best news over the last few days is the formation of Queenslanders for Equality ( and their choice of Stephen Page as Convenor.   Stephen has spent years following and working towards GLBTI rights and specialises in Family law.  He’s been running the Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog since before I came to QLD, he even advised my then-partner and I what we would need to do to emulate the rights that Tasmania’s Relationship Register conferred on us when we moved.

This new group serves a clear need in a community feeling more and more under attack by our government, and is deserving of our support however we can provide it!

Regular articles will resume shortly!

eThankfulness – 22 July

So what am I thankful for this week?

I’m living on my own for a fortnight with Don’s animals.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I love my housemate, but I love having a living space to myself!

I am starting to get very close to my Tasmania holiday – I can’t wait!

I’ve suffered no ill effects from my article – not that I was expecting them, but some other people have been expecting them for me

I am thankful that I am no longer a teenager – as I write this I’m listening to a bunch of bitchy, conniving high-school students talking about what they’ve been saying to someone on Facebook. (I don’t know who)

I am thankful for free wifi at McDonalds – still some of the best coffee in Gladstone… Ordering a tall cappuccino results in a mug coming out with approximately 1/3 of its contents being… foam!  Somewhere that finally gets it!

I am thankful for beautiful weather for my open house today.

I am thankful for the smell of cinnamon.  Smell is one of those senses, certain scents help me be calm, others excite me – because of associations I have with these smells. For me, cinnamon is the smell of calm happiness… Cinnamon is the smell of wonderful things baking in the oven, of comfort food.  Cinnamon is what people include in winter cooking.  (Cinnamon is what I include in cooking all year round)  I am thankful for cinnamon, and moreso for the emotional connection that it draws for me.

An in-depth look at the Regnerus study

I’ve promised you this post for a while now.  Because this seems to be a misuse of science, it’s a frustrating article to write, and the Regnereus study is a hard read… But enough with excuses!

Mark Regnerus did a study with University of Texas called the New Family Structures Study.  He recently published a paper in Social Science Research (SSR) entitled “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.

This has been controversial for a number of reasons.

  1. It was rushed through the review process.
  2. It contradicts what every other well-designed comparative study has found
  3. It appears that the way the data was classified for sampling was manipulated in such a way as to produce bad outcomes.
  4. The funding for the study was from conservative foundations with anti-gay leanings.

Ultimately this has resulted in a letter from 205 academics, including 5 Uni of Texas faculty members, writing an open letter to Social Science Research which essentially suggests that they may now consider it a second-grade journal.

UT is also conducting an investigation into scientific misconduct by Regnerus.  This is an independent panel of UT professors who are looking into the claims that Regnerus essentially faked poor outcomes for same-sex-parented kids.

So I’m going to take these points in order… (any page references are to the page number in SSR)

1. It was rushed through the review process

The timeline is

Received on Feb 1
Revised Feb 29
Accepted March 12

The peer review policy of SSR states that their process is as follows

  1. Editor evaluates it to make sure it meets minimum criteria
  2. 2 experts are secured for peer review.  The review process typically takes 2-3 months.  “But substantially longer review times are not uncommon”.
  3. Revised manuscripts are usually returned to the initial referees upon receipt.
  4. The editor then has the final decision to include the paper.

So in this instance, it went through not one, but two iterations of the review process in about half the time it “typically” takes for a paper to be reviewed once.

This on its own is not necessarily a problem.  There may have been two appropriate reviewers available to read and review it straight away…  It’s rare, but it happens.

2. It contradicts what every other well-designed study has found

This is not specifically a problem either.  Science finds out that it was wrong in all sorts of fascinating and interesting ways, with surprising frequency…

In the introduction to Regnerus’s paper, he notes that “Since [Stacey and Biblarz’s Study in 2001] the conventional wisdom emerging from comparative studies of same-sex parenting is that there are very few differences of note in the child outcomes of gay and lesbian parents. … Moreover, a variety of possible advantages of having a lesbian couple as parents have emerged in recent studies.” (p753)

There is nothing wrong with a scientist contradicting the status quo, whatever your local quack might suggest.  The thing is, when you are overturning established theories, you need damn good evidence to suggest that you are right!  And you’d better be prepared for your studies to be picked apart – wrong presumptions in some circumstances mean that whole fields need to restart using the new theories.

Curiously, given the apparent manipulation of the data in this study, he later talks about sampling concerns in previous studies – I’d classify that as bold…

3. Misclassified data, other sample problems

The real scientific problems with this paper all stem from the sampling.

The study surveyed young adults, 18-39 (p755). For the purposes of Regnerus’s study, they were divided into a number of groups:

IBF – Intact biological family – lived with parents form 0-18 and parents are still married.

LM – Lesbian Mother – Respondent’s mother had a same sex relationship with a woman

GF – Gay Father – Respondent’s father had a same-sex relationship with a man

Adopted: Adopted by two or more strangers between birth and age 2

Divorced later: lived with parents to age 18, parents are not married at present

Stepfamily: Biological parents where Respondent’s primary custodial parent was married to a step-parent before Respondent turned 18

Single Parent: Biological parents were either never married or else divorced, and the primary custodial parent did not marry/remarry before Respondent turned 18

Others: Any other family situation, including deceased parent.

There are some definition problems here that I will address shortly, but the issue noted by the UTexas letter relates to classifications…

“Respondents might fit more than one group.  I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes.  For example a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in [Divorced] or [Single Parent], but in this case my analytical interest is in maximising [LMs] and [GFs] so the respondent would be placed in [LMs].”  GF is the trump card here, “since [GFs] is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population”.

There were 12 respondents in the study to have both an LM and a GF – they were all represented as GF for the study.

Lets think about what this classification decision means…

The only groups not eligible for consideration as LM or GF were IBF or Adopted (since the parents in same-sex relationships were biological for LM or GF).

What this means is that the study, when looking at LMs and GFs include Divorced, Stepfamily, Single parents and Other family configurations.  We do not know if any respondents were raised exclusively by one pair of gay parents using surrogacy or a sperm donor .

Given that IBF is the control group here, what we’re doing (I would suggest almost exclusively) is comparing married people with situations where children were raised in multi-homed or single-parent situations.

This study does not compare similar relationships

And then there’s the definition problem: “had a same-sex relationship” – as far as we know there’s no requirement that this happened while the child was growing up.  it just has to have happened.  If my mother were to call up tomorrow or even 10 years from now and announce she was in a relationship with a woman, I would then be classified as a LM although my entire upbringing was in an IBF.  Or my parents might have divorced and my father taken a male lover for a fortnight – if I as a child perceive that as a relationship, he’s a GF for sure.

In short, the study’s sampling methods promote a misinterpretation of the data by comparing non-comparable relationships and drawing conclusions on the quality of gay parenting based on those comparisons. It also does not seem to draw any requirement of meaning or permanence in a same-sex relationship before qualifying participants as Gay Father or Lesbian Mother.

4. Funding sources

The Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation “are commonly known for their support of conservative causes” (p755)  Places fund studies all the time – the wages have to come from somewhere… grad students don’t just grow on trees y’know!  The funding only becomes a problem when the sample or other methodologies seem to be constructed to be biased in one direction or another – like the data in the NFSS…


The study is flawed.  This is pretty clear, and plenty of people actually qualified to pick this study apart agree with me (I’m a computer scientist, not a social scientist).  This along with the other  problems like the amazingly short review period, the funding sources, and the fact that it goes against what every other researcher has found suggest some rather odd dealings.  It seems strange that SSR reviewers who were not already sympathetic to the article would miss the errors that I and many others noticed.

Ultimately, I think Regnerus has done his reputation and that of SSR some serious damage.  In the process, they’ve produced a study the religious right will use to advocate against same-sex parenting, but which has essentially no relevance, validity, or accepted authority on the matter.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!   I look forward to hearing from you!


I missed yesterday’s thankfulness article… so I’m producing it today, and will put out my takedown of Regnerus tomorrow.

Things I am thankful for:

My friend Ed.  It’s her fault my thankfulness statement didn’t come out because she had invited me around for Dinner and drinks last night.  

Articles in the paper – they’ve been received pretty well, I’m very happy with how they turned out.  I’m still working on getting the double-page spread that was in the paper up here somehow so you can see the weekend articles in situ.

The local vet!  Champion people, who came to the rescue when Alva wasn’t well on Thursday – She’s fine now, thank you to all of you who asked after her.

“The Unknowns” – They’re my trivia team and we went to dinner and the movies on Saturday – it was a great time!

Polished wood floors – One quick lick with a mop and they’re gleaming and gorgeous… They make me feel all productive and stuff when I’m actually being very lazy… what’s not to love!

Dentists – Odd thing to be thankful for, but I just finished treatment for one painful tooth, and now I’m on to the next!

Readers!  You lovely people scored me my highest ever views-per-day on Friday with 166 views!  My previous high score was 90!  Great job guys and thanks for the love!

I’m very thankful to live in a nation where I can criticise my government.  It’s a right I’ve been exercising a lot recently, and I’m guessing I’ll be using it for another couple of years… There aren’t many countries where I could say to/about my state government  leader: “What an idiot!”

It’s Monday 16th July, and this is Dylan, being thankful!