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As fully respectable as it clearly sounds at face value - the obvious good of opposing anyone hating anyone else for their sexuality - the actual origins of this particular term was not rooted in a legitimate self-defensive response to any actual hate against heterosexuals, by rather as an intentionally anti-gay neologism meant to be used against the LGBT community as a snarl word designed to delegitimize the gay rights movement, its campaign for equal treatment, and aim to end to anti-gay bigotry.
The term implies that, rather than reacting to anti-gay rhetoric, gay rights advocates are in fact speaking out against heterosexuality and heterosexuals in a demeaning or bigoted manner. This phraseology attempts to equate the fight against bigotry with bigotry itself. Despite the rare specific instance (see below), on the institutional level it is fairly obvious that "heterophobia" does not exist.
Usage of "heterophobic" or "heterophobia" by anti-gay groups falls into the wider pattern of the persecution complex, in which groups criticized for their tendency to create hate and discrimination react by reframing their discriminatory tendencies as some value-neutral idea, and then suggesting that criticism of this reframed idea constitutes discrimination.
Thus, racism becomes "white pride," and the marginalized racist claims that the "heritage" of having lighter skin pigmentation is being sidelined unjustly through "reverse racism." Similarly, homophobia is simply a deeply-held fundamentalist Christian value, and disrespecting this value by granting equal rights to homosexuals constitutes "religious discrimination".
Deconstructing the persecution complex
The misunderstanding inherent in this use of the persecution complex goes to the basic definition of the rights of the individual. While equally-situated individuals have the right to be treated equally (the anti-discrimination principle), no-one has a right to institutionalize legal discrimination against an innocent group, no matter how much they want to, and no matter what "values" this goal of discrimination is based upon. Thus, "persecution" of discriminators is justified.
Furthermore, anti-gay groups can often be heard bleating about "special rights" given to homosexuals, or that homosexuals are a "protected group" under equality legislation (this argument is a favorite of Ron Paul). However, what they fail to see is that "sexual orientation" is something that everyone has, and such legislation also protects straight people from being discriminated against on the same grounds, as uncommon as that may be. That's the very definition of equality. Instead, conservatives who oppose equality legislation see it as some kind of attack on their identity, and cry about how no one ever gave them "special rights," blissfully unaware of their own privilege.
Put another way, the individual has the right to do anything that does not infringe upon the rights of others. Unjust discrimination infringes upon another's rights, and is thus not a right that should be valued.
A few lesbian feminists could be referred to as heterophobic, as well as being misandrist, as they are overtly opposed to joining the at-large heterosexual society (at least as long as they consider it male-supremacist) on the grounds that women who engage in any familial or working relations with men "betray their lesbian sisters." There's a reason you can't find them in political office. It's worth noting this is a small and ever-dwindling minority of feminist lesbians.
It is probable that a small number of individual gays and lesbians do indeed have an inflexible and pathological fear, hatred and mistrust of straight people; every definable identity group has some pitiably damaged people hanging around on its fringe. Bullying and hatred often lead to more bullying and hatred in response, and so individuals may come to hate all straight people due to bad experiences in their life. However, these are comparatively trivial edge cases and not a rule that is followed - as a group, LGBT people do not express heterophobia, and the claims of heterophobia in LGBT liberation movements simply do not appear. The term's primary use is as a dismissive tactic.
Even if its users did make reference to these few people, they would still be indulging in the fallacy of describing an entire group in terms of very extreme cases. (And aren't we supposed to be fighting stereotypes?)
- Etymological Pedantry Alert: Although, since in Greek heterophobia can be translated as "fear of difference," it is somewhat ironic that the anti-gay position could in fact be called heterophobic. If more precise terms were favored, homoerotophobia could mean "fear of homosexuals," and heteroerotophobia could be expressed to mean "fear of heterosexuals."
- John Stuart Mill, right?
- See the Wikipedia article on Lesbian separatism.