May 23, 2017

Politickin’ me off: For the LGBT community, four letters is enough

Do you know what LGBTQQIAAP means? What about QUILTBAG, or the particularly unfortunate LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM?

If you do, it’s probably a sign that you’ve spent time in communities of young people trying to decide what is the best way to refer to the community of people formerly known simply as LGBT, or who should be included in this community. And yes, those are all real examples, used at Webster, Clark University and Wesleyan University respectively.

Nothing epitomizes the insular and often ridiculous nature of liberal college activism quite like the push to change this terminology.

People who use this terminology are only attempting to be inclusive, which is fine. It’s an admirable effort to make sure that no one feels excluded from a community that is intended to be inclusive.

The letters in the extended acronym variations vary in their legitimacy. Intersex people, those born with both male and female physical traits, have very similar experiences to transgender people. Still, it doesn’t make sense to include them in the acronym when some see themselves as similar to LGBT people. Other labels, like “queer,” are simply redundant, describing the same idea as the acronym in different and less universal language. Then there are stranger and more rare additions, like “kinky” and “polyamorous,” which verge on offensive, being merely choices of sexual behavior which have nothing in common with the LGBT experience.

Aside from the specifics, the longer acronyms are simply alienating. And no, I’m not talking about straight people who are confused by anything non-heterosexual. Most of the world is not familiar with this new terminology, and will always find it difficult to understand and use conversationally. Such language emerges from a white, educated, middle-class, millennial understanding of the purpose of an LGBT community, and will clue in many people who should feel welcome that their experiences and ideas won’t be prioritized.

Many proponents of such expanded acronyms would argue that dissenters need to educate themselves or become more open-minded. But they’re missing the fundamental point of what such language is intended for.

“LGBT” is not just something that brings students together on college campuses and social media, the places where these broader grouping tend to proliferate. Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people are a group who have always drawn together out of shared hardship and alienation from mainstream society. This is the group of people who tangled with the police at Stonewall and fought the deadly AIDS policies of Ronald Reagan. We are the group who have been subjected to criminalization, institutionalization, conversion therapy and employment discrimination. Later additions, well, there’s a reason they’re later additions.

Arguing about what language to use to discuss an issue seems like a distraction from real problems, and it oftentimes is. But at a time when the rights of LGBT people, especially transgender people, are under attack from our government, it does matter. Resources should be allocated to the most vulnerable members of the community. Decisions about how to combat the harmful policies should be made by the people directly affected, without the distraction of other issues or the difficulty of unclear communication.

The most accurate term for those people directly affected always has been, and always will be, LGBT. Many of the people confused over this idea should reconsider not the term used, but why they want to be a part of the community.

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