This morning over breakfast, my husband and I got into a discussion regarding the use of “LGBTQIA+” as shorthand for the Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Queer, and Gender/Identity nonconforming community. He really hates “LGBTQIA+” while I’m fine with it. He says, it is the “+” that really sends him over the edge. “Like what the hell does that even refer?” He asks.

He raises a valid point about a subject that I don’t really think there is a solution for. From his perspective, using LGBTQIA+ is divisive. It means that everyone included under the rainbow umbrella must fit into some letter or symbol. Even when it is designed to be an inclusive term it divides us. The other side of the argument is that by adding these letters, we give visibility to persons (or groups of persons) who are left invisible by privileged terms like “gay and lesbian.”  Visibility is one of the first steps towards awareness and acceptance.

I think part of the issue boils down to if we are trying to identify a community, or if we are talking about sexual identities. I think in some regards this isn’t that big a deal for some, especially younger persons, while it may seem like a huge deal for others. Persons often may identify using different terms.

A year or so ago, I led an interactive workshop for some youth ages 14-19. At the start, I asked them to raise their hands if they were… and then, I used a variety of terms like Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Queer, and Straight. I was super surprised that every kid, including one who identified as straight, also raised their hand for two or more identifiers. For example, some identified as gay, trans, and queer. Some might claim that “gay” refers only to cis, male persons, but for these kids, gay had far broader connotations.

One solution to the dilemma created by a long string of characters, is to simply talk about the Queer community. Lea DeLaria writes an interesting piece about that linked here.but often, especially older persons detest the use of this term which has been used as a weapon of attack against us for so long. I fall on the side of loving the term Queer. But I’m also in favor of referring to the community as LGBTQIA+. I don’t think there has to be a single way to talk about the rainbow collection of diverse individuals.

From DeLaria’s article:

“This is the biggest issue we have in the queer community to date and will continue to be the biggest issue until we learn to accept our differences, and that’s the issue,” DeLaria told Pride Source. “And part of me believes that this inclusivity of calling us the LGBTQQTY-whatever-LMNOP tends to stress our differences. And that’s why I refuse to do it. I say queer. Queer is everybody.”

I also think talking about LGBTQIA+ will help us move discourse about sexual identities bast the binaries of gay and straight. Some anthropologist or sociologist could probably weigh in on how or why this came about, but older folks have become accustomed to the notion of sexual orientation , as if you are straight or gay/lesbian. Too many don’t even being bisexuals exist. Science shows us that sexual orientation is not binary and falls across a broad spectrum. The same thing can be said regarding gender identity– it doesn’t fit into a binary descriptor but rather is a broad spectrum. LGBTQIA+ moves us steps closer to really accepting these broad spectrums by encouraging us to consider these many parts. What does “A” refer to, or “I”? These are valuable questions that promote dialogue and a growing awareness.

I think one reason why this topic can stir up people (or push them over the edge with anger) is because they experience this as calling their own identity into question. For example a gay man who came out in the 90’s may identify so closely with talking about the community as Gay and Lesbian, that for him, the new designation of LGBTQIA+ feels as if it is making his own identity as “gay” invisible. No one wants to be made invisible. The other reason I think this becomes an issue is that it seems to put into question the activism of early generations. Now I’m an old man of 58. My first gay and lesbian (because that what we called it back then) was a rally outside the state capitol in Columbus Oh, in 1976. We fully believed we were being activists for everyone. We never believed we were intentionally excluding anyone, and in fact we adapted as we came to learn more about what it means to be activists for all.  I remember long discussions at meetings about are we felt– shoulds we be Gay and Lesbian, or Lesbian and Gay, or should we include Bisexual, and should we include Transgender.   And groups adapted over time. The first group I was a part of, was the OGRC (Ohio Gay Rights Coalition) and the OSU GAA (Gay Activist Alliance). Both group’s names changed over time.

I’m posting this wondering how my readers feel. Is LGBTQIA+ inclusive or divisive, and how do you see we ought to describe or identify the broader rainbow community? Looking forward to your comments. Leave one below.

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