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Acronym wars! We report direct from the battlefield

LG, LGB, LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQI, LGBTQIA, LGBTQIAP, LGBTQIAPK, LGBTQIAPK2s, LGBTQIAPK2s+…

The list of letters (and numbers) being added to that first simple acronym just keeps on growing. But where do we stop when it comes to including new groups? And how do we decide who qualifies? Is a straight “kinky” person who occasionally enjoys being handcuffed by their straight opposite-sex partner really part of the same community as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans person? Will we ever arrive at a consensus when it comes to what the latest official acronym actually is?

Many people (including some in the “queer” community) even fell for a recent homophobic smear campaign that alleged paedophiles were campaigning to add a “P” to the acronym. This campaign was undoubtedly cruel, but it arguably still served to illustrate some of the problems with operating an open-door policy for addition to the umbrella. If we consider “queer” as being any gender or sexuality which operates against the mainstream, some would argue that paedophiles technically qualify. Based on that, if the paedophile rumour had been true, it is feasible that other proponents of non-consensual sexual activity would have felt qualified to join the queer community. However, the queer community as a whole would be unlikely to wish to include them, regardless of their “technical” right to join.

What, then, is this gender/sexuality mainstream? And how do we deal with the fact that some people use different words to define something that is essentially the same (for instance, bisexuals who are attracted to all genders versus those who prefer the term pansexual)? We are mired in a political and semantic battle which on the one hand challenges us to be more inclusive but on the other risks dividing our community when in fact we should be channelling our energies into those who actively discriminate against us.

Lynnette McFadzen, Chair of BiNet USA (www.binetusa.org), doesn’t see the problem with continuing to expand the acronym – at least for now. I don’t mind adding letters at all,” she says. It doesn’t take that long to learn something new. For me the point of inclusion is to practise inclusion all the time. Not just say the word but make it happen. Everyone should feel valuable, visible and valid. I don’t have any idea where we should stop.” Lynnette believes that the acronym may become obsolete, however. I do know that we will eventually find a shortened one that feels inclusive and fair. It just not something that worries me. I believe our time is better served uplifting and protecting each other rather than fidgeting over acronyms.

“More letters add to confusion,” says Naomi Bennett, Founder of Planet Nation (www.planet-nation.com). “The LGBT acronym is established and recognisable to the mainstream. Lumping too many terms together can reduce the connection and feeling of belonging to the community as you can identify with fewer parts of it. It was originally LGB because those groups were all discriminated against in similar ways. The ‘T’ was added due to close alignment with L, G and B, but it has caused some confusion because it deals with gender and not sexual orientation.” She suggests that similar groups could split off to create new acronyms. Evolution of language has naturally added many more groups. But groups with similar values could potentially group up for related or cohesive campaigns. Adding more and more labels to LGBT simply makes niche groups less visible, not more visible, and makes it much harder to activate members of those groups.”

Well, labelling ourselves as “queer” would seem the obvious step. But many within our community are not comfortable identifying by this reclaimed slur. And much as moving away from the acronym seems a logical step in terms of creating a less unwieldy umbrella term, it still doesn’t solve the problem of who fits under that umbrella. Perhaps it is simply something that we cannot control. No one person owns the umbrella, after all. We just need to make sure it protects the most vulnerable people in our community – whoever they consider themselves to be.

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