Since June is Pride Month, you’re going to see a lot of LGBTQ+ stories. You’re going to see an increasing use of the word ‘queer’ as well.
There is a great deal of controversy over the word queer in the LGBTQ+ community. There has been for a while now and it still exists.
The Q in LGBTQ+, the term the Associated Press Stylebook mandates, can stand for two different things. Some say it stands for questioning, which makes sense because someone who is unsure or exploring their sexuality may not necessarily be ready to label themselves as homosexual or bisexual (which would take care of the L, G or B).
Others say the Q stands for queer.
Loyola University lists the “full” abbreviation as LGBTQQIP2SA. The college states those letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirited, and Asexual.
It leaves out another A word: Ally, which refer to people who are not homosexual or transgender but who support equal rights and serve as a safe place for those who are in the LGBTQ+ community to find support.
Use the term ‘queer’ with caution
AP Style does address the word queer in its most recent update about LGBTQ+ and inclusionary language:
Queer is an umbrella term covering people who are not heterosexual and is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves.
Very subtle in that line is a key point that you can easily miss: “is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves.” What’s left to be assumed is that you should only use the term for people who identify as “queer” rather than as “gay,” “bi,” “trans,” etc.
A recent conversation popped up in our newsroom about the term in a story about a Pride Month event. The reporter said the LGBTQ+ organization representative she interviewed said the term is acceptable.
But acceptable to whom? To that person? To that person’s organization?
If you search around on social media, you’ll find plenty of gay and lesbian people who object to the term. One comment I found stated the Q-word was the slur bullies attacked him with in school. Therefore, that person does not use it and doesn’t want it used to describe him.
NPR covered the growing controversy three-and-a-half years ago.
“I am a gay man and I did not spend my entire life being called queer as a slur for journalists to accept it as reclaimed. It isn’t,” one of their listeners said.
Not much seems to have changed about how people feel about the word since then.
Another example of trying to ‘reclaim’ a slur
Queer is used by some gay people in an effort to “reclaim” the word. In doing so, they believe they can dismantle the negativity it carries when used as a slur.
It’s a nice idea.
But that never works.
Take the N-word, the slur used to describe Black people. Some Black people use the word when referring to each other for the same reason. They have done so for decades. The motive, they have long said, was to “reclaim” the word and eliminate its pain.
But let just one person use the word in a slur sense and see what the reaction is. After decades of trying to “reclaim,” the word is as much of slur — and as hurtful — as it ever was.
You can’t “reclaim” something that has been so thoroughly perverted for evil. If that were the case, the folks who proudly wave the Confederate flag and claim it is about “heritage, not hate,” wouldn’t have seen flag after flag come down over the past several years. For that matter, we wouldn’t be renaming military bases to remove names of Confederate generals.
How’d you like to be the marketing director of a company that wanted to “reclaim” the swastika from the Nazis because they respected that political party’s pre-WWII efficiency before the Holocaust was even conceived?
You can justify trying to “take back” something; You’ll have a hell of a hard time pulling it off.
The queer question
The question about whether to use the term came up because one of the anchors was trying to avoid having to say the letters every time. The repeated use of “LGBTQ+” can be hard on the ear.
One co-worker said he believed it was acceptable for the gay and trans community. Another co-worker said she doesn’t like the word because of its history as a slur and wouldn’t use it.
The anchor ultimately chose to phrase it “the gay and transgender community” and avoid the use of queer altogether. That’s what I would have done if I were writing the story.
When inclusive language is that divisive, it isn’t inclusive.
I agree with AP Style in that someone or some group that self-identifies as such should be referred to in that manner. But it shouldn’t be an umbrella term when it’s clear that so many do not want that association.
We need to always be respectful in our use of language. To do otherwise harms our ability to communicate effectively, which should always be our number one goal.