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LGBTQ or LGBTQ+: Why All the Fuss About the +?

LGBTQ or LGBTQ+: Why All the Fuss About the +?

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The community remains divided over whether or not to place the plus.

The National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association (NLGJA) recently shared that, moving forward, the organization is adding a + sign to LGBTQ to “reflect the many identities that make up our growing community.” It will now be known as NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists.

Not too long ago, I wrote about the word “queer,” and its importance in our community as a descriptor, and the debate that exists as to whether it’s needed. This was after a commentary by humorist David Sedaris on CBS Sunday Morning. He doesn’t like the word, lamenting that the use of the word, at least for him, is another rebrand, i.e., he’s gone from being homosexual, to gay, and now queer.

I was thinking about the Sedaris column when I saw the NLGJA announcement about + as a descriptor and whether it is needed too. Both queer and + cause a lot of people to be happy, and others to be fed-up with yet another addition to a growing acronym that started with four simple letters LGBT.

We here at equalpride have been using the + for some time now. Even for me, it was hard to make it a habit. After I’d write a column, nine times out of 10, I was going back through, adding + to every mention of LGBTQ. When you write as fast as I do, you aren’t thinking about +.

It’s not that I find it a nuisance — I don’t — but it begs the question, do we really need it? And what exactly does it stand for?

Adding the + is a sign of inclusion in our community for all those that aren’t covered by LGBTQ. Some would argue that is what the Q represents. I like the use of the word "queer" as all encompassing. And I also like it because if someone is just caught in the middle of where they are on the rainbow spectrum, L, G, B, or T, identifying as queer is an appropriate alternative.

And the “Q” can also stand for some of those who are simply questioning who they are, and for me, that works too. Others go beyond using Q and +, opting for LGBTQIA+. The “I” for intersex, and the “A” for asexual. Then there is another option, more conspicuous, less prevalent, but adding to the representative inclusion, LGBTQ2 – the 2 for two-spirits. Some beg the question, with all these additions, are we going to far?

In its statement as to why they’re adding the +, NLGJA said, “We realize that adding a plus may not go far enough for some of our members and colleagues but be assured that this change is more than surface-level.”.

I reached out to an acquaintance who is in a throuple, and I asked him if he feels that his situation, and relationship, is represented by LGBTQ+. “No,” he wrote back. “We need to add another “T.” It should be LGBTTQ+.” Then he quickly added, “JK.”

He is a man of a certain age, and his two partners are hush-hush about the throuple, so I’ve been forbidden to use his name, but the other reason I reached out to him is that he teaches English as a second language, so as an expert on language, what did he think about all the additions to LGBT in recent years?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m some preeminent expert, but I will say that when you have long acronyms, it can cause confusion. These additions, the + and the Q, seem like they are not for public consumption, but rather for our own community. For some, older folks particularly, it probably causes confusion, but for the younger generation, I suspect these additions are welcomed.

“There’s an irony in that too. The word queer and the plus sign additions appear to be driven by the younger generation who are more freely expressing their sexual orientations and identities. This generation communicates in short sentences and abbreviated acronyms, like HBU, LMK, and BRB. This new acronym, while inclusive, can be as long as seven characters, which goes against the trend of short and sweet. But if they all want themselves represented, and they’re ok with the long acronym, then why should we complain?”

According to the well-respected The Center in New York City, the + is “used to signify all of the gender identities and sexual orientations that letters and words cannot yet fully describe, such as non-binary.”

Interestingly, when you go to the “about” section on The Center’s website, the explanation says, “Since 1983, The Center has been supporting, fostering and celebrating the LGBT community of New York City.” So, does this mean that The Center doesn’t support, foster and celebrate queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and non-binary? I’m sure that’s not the case. Should they then update the LGBT with the additional letters and symbols?

When I visited GLAAD’s website, among the rotating banner of headlines, each of them does not include the +. And, when I jumped over to Human Rights Campaign, HRC, they are using +. It Gets Better Project also uses +. As does GLSEN, SAGE, and PFLAG.

The growing consensus seems to be that the + should be more frequently used, and utilized as a safe bet to ensure that everyone is represented. After all, if we are all about inclusion, then we have to walk the walk, and talk the talk that includes speaking up for the + sign.

“Our communities are not monolithic, and as the past few years have shown us, it is more important than ever to show our support for all members of the LGBTQ+ community," states the NLGJA. "As trans and nonbinary communities continue to be targeted by politicians and activists, we hope that this change will demonstrate our association’s commitment to supporting the members of those communities.”

We’re not only updating our acronym, but we’ve also seen that the Pride flag includes some new stitching. According to the HRC, website, the traditional rainbow flag has given way to scores of others. There are not five variations under what’s considered the umbrella flag. There are eight under the sexual orientation flag, eight more gender identity and gender expression flags, and there are three intersectionality Pride flags.

The times, they are a changin’, and so should we. It’s exhilarating that so many people identify in so many different ways, and as such, we need to recognize the changes, acknowledge them and welcome them, and if that means adding to a few letters or symbols, then so be it.

When I interviewed screen legend Shirley MacLaine last summer, part of the reason I wanted to speak with her was to gauge her sentiment on sexual identity. I asked her what she thought of so many young people coming out in various ways, and as an 89 year-old, she has a very progressive way of looking at it, and summing it up.

“It's easy to contemplate that there are more than two sexes. Let yourself speculate on that for a minute, and it will be very revealing as to who you are. How do you relate to just two sexes? I really ask questions about how we will identify in the future. Or even how prior civilizations defined sexual identity -- there could have been two, three, or more sexes, or ones that we've never even thought about. The fact that there might be many is something that shouldn't be denied. Where does it say that we have to only have two sexes?"

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.