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 LGBT community to describe a person who identifies as straight and who is strongly attracted to LGBT individuals for social relationships and is attracted to LGBT 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.
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. However crime statistics and studies on gay parenting have failed to demonstrate any higher prevalence of child abuse by gay or lesbian individuals when compared to heterosexuals.