The word homophile is an alternative to the word homosexual, preferred by some because it emphasizes love ("-phile" from Greek φιλία) over sex. Coined by the German astrologist, author and psychoanalyst Karl-Günther Heimsoth in his 1924 doctoral dissertation "Hetero- und Homophilie", the term was in common use in the 1950s and 1960s by homosexual organisations and publications; the groups of this period are now known collectively as the homophile movement.
The term "homophile" began to disappear with the emergence of the Gay Liberation movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, replaced by a new set of terminology such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, although some of the homophile groups survived until the 1980s, 90s and even the present day.
The word is sometimes used colloquially in the GLBT community to describe a person who identifies as straight and who is strongly attracted to GLBT individuals for social relationships and is attracted to GLBT culture and community.
After the gains made by the homosexual rights movements of the late 19th and early 20th century, the vibrant homosexual subcultures of the 20s and 30s became silent as war engulfed Europe. Germany, the traditional home of such movements (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) and activists (Magnus Hirschfeld, Ernst Burchard, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs or Max Spohr), went from being the best place in Europe to be gay, lesbian or transgendered, to the worst, under the Nazis. Swiss journal Der Kreis ("the circle") was the only homosexual publication in Europe to publish during the Nazi era. Der Kreis was edited by Anna Vock, and later Karl Meier; the group gradually shifted from being female-dominated to male-dominated through the 1930s, as the tone of the magazine simultaneously became less militant.
After the war, organisations began to re-form, such as the Dutch COC in 1946. Other, new organisations arose, including Forbundet af 1948 ("League of 1948"), founded by Axel Axgil in Denmark, with Helmer Fogedgaard publishing an associated magazine called Vennen (The Friend) from January 1949 until 1953. Fogedgaard used the pseudonym "Homophilos", introducing the concept of "homophile" in May 1950, unaware that the word had been presented as an alternative term a few months previously by Jaap van Leeuwen, one of the founders of the Dutch COC. The word soon spread among members of the emerging post-war movement who were happy to emphasise the respectable romantic side of their relationships over genital sexuality.
A Swedish branch of Forbundet af 1948 was formed in 1949 and a Norwegian branch in 1950. The Swedish organisation became independent under the name Riksförbundet för sexuellt likaberättigande (RFSL, "Federation for Sexual Equality") in 1950, led by Allan Hellman. The same year in the United States, the Mattachine Society was formed, and other organisations such as ONE, Inc. (1952) and the Daughters of Bilitis (1955) soon followed. By 1954, the monthly sales of ONE's magazine peaked at 16,000. Homophile organisations elsewhere include Arcadie (1954) in France and the British Homosexual Law Reform Society (founded 1958).
These groups are generally considered to have been politically cautious in comparison to the LGBT movements that both preceded and followed them. Historian Michael Sibalis describes the belief of the French homophile group Arcadie, "that public hostility to homosexuals resulted largely from their outrageous and promiscuous behaviour; homophiles would win the good opinion of the public and the authorities by showing themselves to be discreet, dignified, virtuous and respectable." However, while few were prepared to come out, they did risk severe persecution, and some figures within the Homophile movement such as the American communist Harry Hay were more radical.
By the mid 1960s, gays, lesbians and transpeople in the United States were forming more visible communities, and this was reflected in the political strategies of American homophile groups. From the mid-1960s, they engaged in picketing and sit-ins, identifying themselves in public space for the first time. Formed in 1964, the San Franciscan Society for Individual Rights (SIR) had a new openness and a more participatory democratic structure. They were focused on building community, and sponsored drag shows, dinners, bridge clubs, bowling leagues, softball games, field trips, art classes, and meditation groups. In 1966, they opened the nation's first gay and lesbian community center, and by 1968 they had over 1000 members, making them the largest homophile organization in the country. The world's first gay bookstore had opened in New York the year before. A 1965 gay march held in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, according to some historians, marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Meanwhile in San Francisco in 1966, transgender street prostitutes in the poor neighborhood of Tenderloin rioted against police harassment at a popular all-night restaurant, Gene Compton's Cafeteria. These and other activities of public resistance to oppression lead to a feeling of Gay Liberation that was soon to give a name to a new movement.
Use of "homophile" by the Church of England
In recent years the term has also been adopted by anti-gay groups and Christian fundamentalists, particularly in the United States, as a term of abuse for gay men and lesbians by attempting to imply a link between homosexuality and paedophilia.
List of Homophile organisations and publications
- Forbundet af 1948 (1948 - ?) and Pan (1954 - present)
- Arcadie (journal, published from 1954 to 1982), and organisation with the same name. Often published with the subtitle "Mouvement homophile de France".
- COC (1946 - present) is the earliest homophile organisation. Their first magazine, Vriendschap, was published from 1949 to 1964 (available online). They also produced a number of other publications.
- RFSL, Riksförbundet för sexuellt likaberättigande - "Federation for Sexual Equality", known since 2007 as the "Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights" (1950 - present)
- Homosexual Law Reform Society (1958 - 1970 when it was renamed as the Sexual Law Reform Society). The HLRS was formed as a response to the 1957 Wolfenden report. Most of the members were heterosexual.
- Campaign for Homosexual Equality (1964 - present)
- Vice Versa (magazine): America's Gayest Magazine (1947 - 1948), the first lesbian periodical in the United States, was free. Lisa Ben (an anagram of “lesbian”), the 25-year old Los Angeles secretary who created Vice Versa, chose the name “because in those days our kind of life was considered a vice.”
- The Mattachine Society (1950 - 1987) and the Mattachine review (1955 - 1966); Homosexual Citizen, (published by the Washington chapter, 1966 - ?)
- The Daughters of Bilitis (1955 - present) and The Ladder (1956 - 1972); Focus (published by the Boston chapter, 1971 - 1983); Sisters, (National, published in San Francisco, 1971 - 1975).
- ONE, Inc. (1952 - present) and One magazine (1953 - 1972); Homophile Studies (1958 - 1964)
- The Janus Society (1962 - 1969) and drum (sic) magazine (1964 - 1969). A racy gay-male oriented magazine, drum reached a circulation of 10,000 by 1966.
- Society for Individual Rights (1964 - 1976) and Vector (1965 - 1977)
- The Homosexual Law Reform Society (1965–1969)
- Phoenix: Midwest Homophile Voice, a Kansas City, Missouri magazine (1966 - 1969)
- Homophile Action League (Philadelphia) and the HAL Newsletter (1969 - 1970)
- Sibalis, Michael, 2005. Gay Liberation Comes to France: The Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR), French History and Civilization. Papers from the George Rudé Seminar. Volume 1 PDF link
- Issues in Human Sexuality: A Statement by the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England, December 1991 (London: Church House Publishing, 1991). Annotated text online: 
- "Sexuality Studies at UC Davis, Sexuality Studies Resources Held in the UC Davis Shields Library's Special Collections Department" URL accessed April 8, 2006.