Today, most people are adding the “Q” to LGBT. They shouldn’t, and let me explain why.
Some add the Q through innocent mindlessness. They hear it being referred to in that way and simply repeat it. Innocent mistake.
Others add it intentionally, mistakenly believing doing so is more sensitive, respectful, and enlightened, like using “Asian” rather than “Oriental,” “African-American” over “black,” or “disabled” rather than “handicapped.” This can come from good intentions, but it is ill-informed and unnecessary.
These others are objective, defined groups of people. “LGBT” is not. It is almost inherently subjective.
To be sure, we should care for and be kind to all individuals, regardless of their story. This is what my book, “Loving My LGBT Neighbor,” is about. But we do not have to be respectful of all political and ideological groups. There is a very important difference here. People are people and groups are not.
Not adding the Q to LGBT has to do with some very important particulars of the gay and lesbian movement and its public relations goals. Let’s look at just two of the major ones.
Many Gay People Resist the Alphabet Soup
I’ve had many discussions over the years about the variations of this acronym with gay, lesbian, and trans leaders I count as friends. They express frustration with it, explaining how they and many of their peers have given up deciding what letters should be included in this ever-growing list because no one can agree on them. “Who can keep up anymore, so why even try?” a gay actor from Chicago told me recently.
A long and valued friend of mine in that movement, Jonathan Rauch, wrote a fascinating article for The Atlantic last year on this very question. He explains that some highly influential leaders in this group refuse use “LGBT” or any of its derivatives, not because of confusion, but on principle.
Frank Kameny, who many credit as the father of the gay rights movement, “abjured it.” A friend of Kameny’s explains he realized early on that establishing a truly inclusive moniker for their movement would lead to ridiculousness. “Frank was quite indignant about the alphabet soup. When it started in the ’80s with gay and lesbian, he correctly predicted that there would be no end of it.” This is because there is no clear determination of what should and should not be included in this group.
Rauch is of the conviction that the LGBT train of letters, this “telescoping designation,” should be sent to the rail yard. He believes this, not because it’s unwieldy, imprecise or unhelpful, but because it feeds “the excesses of identity politics” that have poisoned our national discourse.
To illustrate the problem, Rauch wisely asks the alphabet soup advocates to consider this applicable scenario: “Imagine if the religious-liberty movement instead styled itself the CJMHBSBA+ (Catholic-Jewish-Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist-Sikh-Baha’i-Animist-plus) movement. The symbolism ceases to be about equality for all Americans and becomes instead about naming particularistic claimants.”
If gay and lesbian leaders have long given up trying to get the thing right, you and I shouldn’t feel compelled to worry ourselves with it either.
LGBT Refers to Something That Doesn’t Exist
There is no actual LGBT movement, and there is no such a thing as an “LGBT person.” As one friend in that movement told me, “I am not an ‘LGBT person,’ nor is anyone else. No one is a Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Questioning person.” In his Atlantic article, Rauch holds that LGBT “is not a label that accurately describes me or any other American. It describes a coalition, yes, but not any actual person.”
Just as the LGBT person does not exist, neither does the movement or the coalition in actuality. LGBTetc. is an ideological and socio-political construct. It certainly does not refer to a unified, naturally occurring people group.
Why? The members of this supposed coalition do not live in solidarity, they are largely not together. They often don’t get along so well and certainly don’t agree on who should and should not be counted as members. Disagreement on this matter is baked into the thing itself. Thus, it is not actually a “thing,” so we should stop pretending it is.
The people lumped into this designation are not always the political or social allies most assume. Many Ls think Gs are too promiscuous. Many Gs are shocked that the Ls get so serious so quickly. Many Ls and Gs believe the Bs should stop pretending and just pick a side already. Many Ls, Gs, and Bs believe the Ts are a curiosity. And most of the other letters never show up at the marches.
A lesbian activist explained it well in the pages of The New York Times, “The gay establishment has always taken ‘L.G.B.T.’ to mean ‘gay, with lesbian in parentheses, throw out the bisexuals, and put trans on for a little bit of window dressing.’” Yes, it all tends to be a bit patriarchal. Ladies, to the back.
There is ample evidence that many members of this supposed coalition don’t wholly respect and stand up for each other. They are, more than not, segregated in practicality and ideology. Those outside their movement should certainly not feel compelled or shamed into acting as if this alphabet soup of disagreed-upon letters is an objective class of people who must be addressed in a certain way. They don’t need to believe using certain letters is being respectful or correct.
Trying to get it right is a fool’s errand, and many non-heterosexual people gave up on it long ago. So should the rest of us.