A native of Manhattan, Weinberg got his Master’s degree in English (he especially liked Shakespeare) and was studying math and statistics as a postgrad when he decided he really liked helping people solve their problems, instead. He switched his studies to psychology, and became a clinical psychologist instead. In 1965, he was invited to a party and asked a friend to come along. When the host learned the friend was a lesbian, he asked Weinberg to rescind her invitation. That led Weinberg to come up with a word to describe what he saw in the host. “I coined the word homophobia to mean it was a phobia about homosexuals,” Dr. Weinberg said later. “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.” As it happened, Weinberg, who was straight, was about to speak to the East Coast Homophile Organization, so it was a natural connection to make.
A few years later, Time magazine used the term; Weinberg explored the term in more depth in articles and a book, and it went mainstream. “I felt like an apostle of the obvious, and people imagined I was doing something daring,” he said in 2002. University of California, Davis, Psychology Prof. Gregory M. Herek, called the term “a milestone” which “stood a central assumption of heterosexual society on its head by locating the ‘problem’ of homosexuality not in homosexual people, but in heterosexuals who were intolerant of gay men and lesbians.” Dr. Weinberg went on to write the book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, which rejected the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness. Indeed, Dr. Weinberg led the fight to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders where it was listed as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” It was finally removed in 1974. In later years, he fought against dismissal of the word. “As long as homophobia exists, as long as gay people suffer from homophobic acts, the word will remain crucial to our humanity,” he said. “Indeed, the next big step should be to add ‘homophobia’ to the official list of mental disorders — not to cleanse the language of it.” Weinberg died March 20, from cancer. He was 87.