The reclamation of queer has come a long way: GLAAD is now recommending that media organizations add the Q to the LGBT acronym.
The recommendation comes in the 10th edition of the organization's Media Reference Guide, out today.
"One of the biggest drivers toward adding the Q is we're seeing more and more of the younger generation adopting the Q," says Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD's president and CEO.
As the media guide notes, many millennials and even younger people identify as queer because they find the terms lesbian, gay, or bisexual too limiting or loaded with cultural baggage they don't wish to carry. "This is our opportunity to look forward and reclaim the word in a very visible way," Ellis tells The Advocate.
Granted, some LGBT people still consider queer a slur, and many of us have experienced it as one. The GLAAD guide does note that not everyone has embraced it, but it advises the media that LGBTQ is a more accurate and inclusive description of our population. It notes that Q can also stand for questioning, but it more often means queer.
The reclamation of queer hasn't happened overnight; an early reclaimer, the activist group Queer Nation, was founded way back in 1990. And just this year, The Huffington Post came in for some criticism when it changed the title of its Gay Voices section to Queer Voices.
But language evolves, with LGBT having mostly superseded gay and lesbian, and gay being a successor to such terms as homophile, seldom if ever heard today. In light of GLAAD's new guidance, will there be a rush to adopt LGBTQ? Its use is certainly on the increase, in a variety of venues.
Donald Trump used the acronym, albeit haltingly, in his Republican convention speech accepting the party's presidential nomination. In 2014 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force changed its name to the National LGBTQ Task Force; it was founded in 1973 as the National Gay Task Force and added Lesbian in 1985. The single-A GLAD, a Boston-based legal group, this year changed from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders to GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders. Some college organizations have added A for asexual or ally and I for intersex. Stephen Colbert and Dan Savage discussed the ever-evolving acronym on Colbert's Late Show in May:
GLAAD has evolved as well. It was founded in 1985 as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in 1985, largely to counter the homophobic reporting surrounding the AIDS epidemic. GLAAD, which goes just by the acronym these days, has evolved from primarily a reactive media watchdog into a group that seeks to "shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change," as its mission statement says.
It is still, of course, particularly concerned with media, aiming to assure that both news and entertainment media represent us in a manner that is fair, inclusive, and accurate. It has been publishing the Media Guide for about 20 years, so updates have come about every two years, Ellis notes. Other changes in the 10th edition include expanded definitions of the terms asexual and intersex, based on conversations with those populations, she says.
The way news outlets cover LGBT (and Q) people has changed much for the better over the years. GLAAD can take some of the credit for that, Ellis says. "It's been our work for 30 years at GLAAD to have our stories told in a fair and accurate way, and we're seeing the fruits of that labor," she says. But she also credits the many people who have come out of the closet and increased our visibility over those years.
There is still work to be done, she acknowledges. There is the misgendering of transgender people, often in death, as the number of known transgender murder victims climbs year after year. "Any time we see that, we move in for the correction," Ellis says, noting that journalists are usually simply going off police reports that misgender the deceased. There is insufficient media attention, she adds, to violence against trans people as well as LGB ones.
There is the matter of misunderstanding and erasure of bisexual people, with some members of the media and the public assuming that bi people can't be monogamous, or that if a bi person is in a monogamous relationship, he or she is no longer bi. Understanding and visibility have advanced, Ellis notes, with the observance of Bisexual Awareness Week and the briefings the White House has held on the topic. But again, there is more to be done. GLAAD even has a guide specifically for reporting on bisexual people and issues.
In entertainment media, LGBT representation in big-studio films remains a problem. "Either we don't exist, we're the punching bag, or we're the butt of the joke," Ellis says. GLAAD monitors and seeks to rectify the situation with its annual reports on representation in film and television, which now will include a count of characters identified as queer as well as those written as L, G, B, or T.
Here at The Advocate, we haven't made a decision on switching from LGBT to LGBTQ. We have our own style guide, which draws on a variety of sources along with our own judgment. NLGJA, the Association of LGBT Journalists, still recommends LGBT, by the way, saying, "LGBTQ is best used only in quotations or for formal names of organizations or events." The Advocate would like to hear what our readers think about adding the Q to the acronym. You can vote in the Twitter poll below.