Tim Hardaway's comments should not be the story that it is. Yes, it should be a news story; we should take note when a celebrity says such a thing. But radio hosts, bloggers, writers are spending WAY WAY WAY too much time on this story. Why? Tim Hardaway said some awuful things--awful things that you've probably heard said before. Hardaway ADDED NOTHING NEW TO THE DISCOURSE ON HOMOSEXUALITY IN AMERICA. We now know where he stands, but the things that he said have been out there in our society for a long time; there's no reason for this to be the catalyst to make sportswriters talk about it nonstop.
And now I'm going to use this as a catalyst to talk it.
I do not like the term "homophobia" or "homophobic." It's not that I disbelieve in the concept of homophobia, but that the word is applied too broadly. In it's broad application, we label people homophobic who should require some other word; by labeling these people homophobic, I think we distort the discourse. Here are the two groups of people that are often called homophobic but should not be.
People who are prejudiced or bigoted against gay people
We don't call a racist "blackphobic," and we don't call a misogynist "femiphobic." Bigotry does not equate to fear (perhaps bigotry stems from fear, but it does not equate to a "phobia"). A phobia implies something psychological that may be beyond a person's control that needs to be restrained. Bigotry, certainly, is a result of social conditioning, but there's still an element of conscious choice. A lot of the people who hate gay people are not homophobic, i.e., afraid of gay people. They are bigots that require a different, stronger word. heterosexist, perhaps. The term homophobic has come to be the equivalent of "racist" or "sexist," but to me that term distorts what it is. and should not be applied.
People who believe homosexuality is morally wrong
There are people who, usually for religious reasons, believe homosexuality is sinful or wrong. I disagree with these people; furthermore I think in a free society these people should not obstruct freedom and equality for gay people. However, these people have a moral stance that is an "idea." They are not afraid of gay people. Many of them do not hate gay people. They think gay people are morally wrong; they have a concious idea, not a less than concious fear. Certainly you are free to disagree with them, but unlike a bigot, you might have a chance for rational dialogue and discourse with these people (not always--a lot of the people who believe homosexuality is wrong mix in, or are hiding, the outride bigotry, hate, and prejudice of the first group). Applying "homophobia" to this group of people does not help that dialogue; it only distorts what it is. If you are arguing with somebody who believes homosexuality is wrong, and you refer to that person as "homophobic," you are not allowing a clear rational discourse, because the labels have distorted what you are arguing about.