🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: Alphabet Soup

Someone once asked me, “What’s up with all those letters in LGBTQ+, and why are they in that order?” The answer is actually quite cool, because it takes you through several decades of gay history. By the 1940s and 1950s, the term “homosexual” (or derivatives of it, like “homophile”) were used to describe all LGBTQ people. In the ’60s and ’70s, gay men and lesbians didn’t always see eye to eye, so you begin to see each group using its own terminology. Add bi people to the mix and you start to see the first acronym in use: either LGB or GLB.

Over time, the equality movement began to incorporate and recognize trans people, so the acronym was expanded to LGBT. Some people used GLBT instead, but most seemed to prefer LGBT. I used GLBT for a while, but it looks weird when you think about it. It would be pronounced “glibbit,” like the rhyme for “ribbit.” 🐸

(Quick editorial comment: It’s shameful the way gay men and lesbians ignored trans people, especially trans POC, at the beginning of the movement. We should have been an LGBT community from Day One. People who have been excluded from society should know better than to exclude their brothers and sisters from the fight.)

While everyone was trying to figure out an acronym, another linguistic change was underway. Starting in the ’80s, radical members of the community began reclaiming the word queer, which was an insult for many years. Queer was controversial at the time — a lot of people, including me, grew up with it as a pejorative term — but it eventually gained acceptance and I’ll even use it once in a while. That’s how LGBT became LGBTQ. (Quick tip: It’s a good idea to ask someone if they identify as queer before you use the word to describe them.)

Today, you’ll see a lot of people appending a plus sign to LGBTQ. That’s because we want to include allies, intersex people, asexual people, questioning people, pansexuals, gender-fluid people, non-binary people, and so on. LGBTQ+ is more manageable than — yes, you will find this term on the internet — LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA. 😳