The cost of the abbreviation “LGBT”

It’s not a huge secret that I’m not a big fan of the ever-expanding abbreviation LGBT for what used to be the “gay” community.

Once upon a time (the mid-1990s, in fact) we were gay, then “gay & lesbian,” then “gay, lesbian and bisexual,” then “gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans,” then “lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans,” and now, depending who you talk to, we’ve added on the letter Q (having multiple meanings), I (having multiple meanings), and a few As to boot.

Putting aside the argument about who is and isn’t a member of the gay community, and whether “questioning” is even a legitimate category at all (are there questioning Jews? – yes – so perhaps we should rename Judaism “JewsQ”).

But let’s not even get into any of that.  One of my biggest concerns with the abbreviation LGBT, or whatever your preferred alphabet soup, is that fact that’s basically shoved ourselves back into the closet.

How so?

Rainbow hands via Shutterstock

Rainbow hands via Shutterstock

A few years back I noted that a gay group had decided to attend the huge pro-immigration rally in Washington, DC, and the move was rather smart.  It was intended to show support for the Latino community, while at the same time being openly-gay, and hopefully making inroads into Latino support for gay rights?

Only problem?  Their signs didn’t contain the word “gay.”  Instead, they said “LGBT.”  And I’m not convinced a lot of people knew what LGBT was a few years back, and I’d be curious how many know today.

What I’ve noticed, with increasing frequency the past few months, is the inning of the word “gay” in articles and press releases about gay, or LGBT, rights.  And the point isn’t simply aesthetic.  I worry about how many people know that the term LGBT means “gay” (ish).  And if they don’t, we just lost our visibility and got inned.

But there’s another problem as well. When the word gay is missing from a story, or release, it means there’s less of a chance that people will think find it via Google, if they’re searching for the word gay, which I usually do when looking for “gay” news.

Case in point: This White House post about the President meeting with non-governmental organization (NGO) advocates in Russia, including members from gay groups.  You won’t find the word gay in the post.  You know what else you won’t find?  The word “trans.”  And I’d argue it’s even more important for the trans community, then the gay community, to get as much visibility as possible as their civil rights movement, their visibility, significantly lags behind that of the gay community’s.

I don’t fault the White House – they’re using the term that our community, or its leaders, told them to use.  And I can appreciate the valid arguments of bi and trans people that the word “gay” might not exactly define who they are.  But I still worry about whether this attempt at inclusiveness has excluded us all.

In the end, the times may catch up with the abbreviation.  At some point, everyone may know what the abbreviation LGBT means.  And people may naturally search for “LGBT” when looking for “gay” stories on Google.  Of course, by then, it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll be calling ourselves something else. :)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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129 Responses to “The cost of the abbreviation “LGBT””

  1. Alec says:

    I’m going to bet that most of you who think “gay” as an umbrella term is okay are old. If there is eventually going to be an umbrella term, it should/will be queer as that is a much more inclusive term the way we use it today.
    Beyond that however, I would say the end goal for me at least is to get to a point where such terms are unneeded. The fact is, there’s a large percentage of the population who fit into the queer spectrum. As such, it’s normal and if it’s normal it does not need a term to be identified.
    As gender and sexuality myths are debunked, the need to identify who identifies and likes which gender will cease to be something to talk about.
    When rights are equal regardless of gender or sexuality, why would there need to be any term at all? Other than for those few who don’t want it to be considered normal because that takes away their feelings of being special. Everyone else will just continue on with life without the need for special names.
    Right now however, there is the need to at least identify a queer spectrum as we continue to fight for equal rights. Thinking that a phrase that is traditionally used to identify homosexual men will ever be accepted as an umbrella term for all those in the LGBTQ, etc community is arrogant and ignorant. And really, if someone doesn’t know what it means, tell them. I do. Being considerate enough to recognize the diversity within the spectrum is not a bad thing. Being too lazy to deal with an acronym reminds me of my family who couldn’t be bothered to use my correct name and gender. It reeks.

  2. Robin Tyler says:

    We started to add lesbian to the word gay back in the 70’s. Many of use who were organizers in the women’s movement also worked in the gay movement. Lesbians had to fight for women’s rights as well as gay rights. Many remained invisible both in the women’s movement (who did not want to be seen as lesbians) and in the gay movement. The Women’s Music Festivals (i produced 2 of them) gave lesbians a chance to be ‘lesbian’ specific. This worked well in issues such as equal pay for equal work, access to sports scholarships, etc. (too numerous to list). When the AIDS crisis came, the lesbians supported and helped their gay brothers. I believe the word ‘queer’ used by youth overrode lesbian and gay. And yes, LGBT is still around. But I still identify as a lesbian who also thinks of herself as gay.

  3. neroden says:

    That movie is well ahead of its time.

  4. neroden says:

    Uh, actually, the original problem was… “We were gay… whether that meant gay men or gay women (lesbians) as well as anyone else”… that this excluded bi people. Made bi people invisible, in fact.

  5. neroden says:

    Gay works for gay people. Not so much for bi people.

  6. neroden says:

    Gay was “all inclusive”? By all acocunts, it wasn’t inclusive of “bi”. And in fact that’s why the first campaign (for bi visilibity and inclusion) created the “LGB” acronym.

  7. neroden says:

    Anne Heche *is* a confused person, judging by how generally rambling she is in general. Of course the media wants to use her as the poster girl for bisexuality, because they’re bigoted.

    Bi people are still facing more negative response than gay people, and getting hostility *from* some gay people. And then there’s bi invisibility. Thank goodness Anna Paquin was so articulate and public — she’s provided a litmus test: anyone who was hostile to her is trouble.

  8. neroden says:

    “But none of these changes raised any fundamental issue of gay identity”

    Actually, bisexuality DOES raise a fundamental issue of gay identity. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  9. dcinsider says:

    I agree, my comment was more intended as a general observation than to this particular poster. Thanks for bringing up this discussion.

  10. Ninong says:

    Yes, well the issue of which words to use has come up before, even on this fourm. I was scolded by a lesbian poster for using the word “lady” instead of “woman” when I posted about a woman named in a news article. Just a habit that was ingrained in me many decades ago. When I was young it was considered an insult to call a woman anything other than a lady.

    I also remember the first time I dared make the mistake of holding the door to a supermarket open for two lesbians in San Francisco in the 1970’s. They considered it a deliberate insult on my part. I think they thought I was straight and was holding the door open as a way of denying them their sexual orientation. They were quite vocal in telling me what I should do. Whatever.

    Well, I’m old enough to remember the days when gay meant you were in a happy mood.
    Then it acquired its current meaning and most of us were happy for that, considering the earlier alternatives used even by the mainstream press.

    On another front, when I was young it was considered impolite to refer to an African-American as a negro. The only polite term was Colored person. Calling someone black would have been considered highly insulting. The n-word, of course, was only used by ignorant rednecks with poor breeding, according to my grandmother. Then for a while there Jesse Jackson said the new word was Afro-American. Then black came into favor along with African-American.

    Who knows which words will be in favor 50 years from now?

  11. rja74 says:

    I did not now you could trademark the rainbow. Now that’s smart marketing!


    Bocas Del Toro

  12. David Thompkins says:

    Every social, racial and ethnic group on Earth has some homosexual members, Brenda. There are some gay Californians, some gay electricians, some gay violinists, and some gay disabled people. That doesn’t mean that we incorporate the entire population of California, all electricians and violinists and all disabled people into the LGB community.

    The same approach applies in the case of Ts. The Ts who are gay are part of the gay community because they are gay, not because they are T. The Ts who are hetero are not part of the gay community, because they aren’t gay.

  13. PStJTT says:

    Meaning no disrespect, but I read the article as a statement of the author’s dawning awareness of the gay nomenclature argument that I believe goes ‘way further back than the 90’s. I’m voting the 60’s, but honestly that’s just when I first started becoming aware of it. It could be we were arguing semantics back in ancient Sumeria. I’m not sure that I believe it will get settled just so we’re easier to Google.

  14. kladinvt says:

    I refer to all of us, no matter the gender or situation as “gay people”, because that’s what we all are.

  15. Brenda Lunger says:

    David, some Ts are homosexual as well. Your definition is flawed by assuming that the groups are somehow mutually exclusive. Each group within LGBT has an identity, and individuals within those groups may identify with several of those identities.

    We need to have a human equality movement. Naming the equality movement after any identity within the group seems to divide more than unite.

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  17. Indigo says:

    Get used to it. It’s here to stay.

  18. gaylib says:


  19. emjayay says:

    Fun discussion uh, guys.

  20. emjayay says:

    Uh-oh, the Q word again. Like I said above, that was part of the Queer Nation period and it had its point. Also, it makes a snappy rhyme with here.

  21. emjayay says:

    Yes, I think Ellen and Rachel are examples of gay women who get the LGBT thing but think the short common term “gay” is OK to use, and it will come back as the conversational term for either men or women.

  22. emjayay says:

    All the queer stuff came up around the Queer Nation period. Now it sounds a bit anachronistic.

  23. emjayay says:


  24. chris10858 says:

    This is starting to get ridiculous. Let’s just keep adding on enough alphabet letters to include everyone that isn’t exclusively 100% heterosexual. While I do support EVERYONE for fair and equal representation and civil rights, some of us are part of the gay & lesbian community while others are part of the trans community while yet others are part of some other community. For example, I support the trans community in their struggle for equality but as a gay man, I don’t equate sexual orientation with gender identity. They are two separate issues entirely. Sure, we may all be a part of some larger “queer” community but who even uses the “q” term anymore?

  25. emjayay says:

    Once again I would suggest that Ell-Gee-Bee-Tee sounds more like an English word than Gee-Ell-Bee-Tee, and it has an internal rhyme as well, and is the usual form also.

  26. emjayay says:

    Please stop.

  27. emjayay says:

    For some reason I think the opposite, and LGBT is I think the standard usage. Ell-Gee sounds more like an English word than Gee-Ell.

  28. emjayay says:


  29. emjayay says:

    I think LGBT is a politically correct term which is fine to use but I don’t see gay disappearing but eventually coming back as the umbrella term, hopefully in less than several milleniums.

  30. emjayay says:

    Omigod one more rearangement of the letters. Anyway, if you are a transman you are a man. If you are a man sexually attracted to men you are gay.

  31. emjayay says:

    Because that’s so easy to say. While Native Americans get and appreciate the NA thing, they generally refer to each other as Indian.

  32. emjayay says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s the Victorian tradition for women. Just close your eyes and think of England. Don’t know if they were aromatic or fragrance free.

  33. emjayay says:

    And then the Ellen character said “I’m gay.”

  34. pappyvet says:

    Well thanks Karmanot ! I used what I thought to be appropriate language and wrote passionately and as truthfully as I could.. If you’ve read some of my stuff you know that often I try to reason with someone so I was taken aback when my comment jus simply did not show up. I hope Disqus can figure all this out ,I would hate to think that it is someone doing it on purpose. I know that there are some who can remember exactly what they wrote but I am not one of them. I would hate to lose my expression and hope that you get this…I just looked below and my comment is back yay !

  35. Gene B says:

    I’m not sure which mid-90s you were in, but I still have vivid memories of having my head bitten off in 1989 at a meeting of in Seattle when I used the term “gay” to refer to the community as a whole. “It’s gay and lesbian! Unless you’re being sexist and only mean you men!”

    A year later, while I was part of a group trying to form a mixed-gender queer chorus it came up again and again. I also remember some men who had recently moved from the east coast observing that Seattle was unusual in how many members of both the gay and lesbian community were willing to work together, and how seldom people had insisted that it should always be “lesbian and gay” in that order, rather than “gay and lesbian.”

    Don’t get me start on the men who rejected the gay label because “it only applies to white men.”

    Not that I’m disagreeing with your point, but your history is a little off.

  36. Dan Hart says:

    A “Life of Brian” clip seems appropriate.

    When you figure out what we should call ourselves, text me :)

  37. Dave says:

    There were 2 uses of “queer”. One was a noble attempt to “reclaim” an anti-gay slur. This was well-intentioned, but it failed. It is still every bit as much a slur as it used to be.

    The second usage was to refer to people who are marginalized, transgressive, at odds with their communities’ norms. This can include anyone. A straight anarchist might be queer as might a goth or a Mormon polygamist sect. The “queer” academics who coined this term simply view gay people as radical, inherently marginal people, who are inherently in conflict with their families, neighbors and communities. In this sense, queer academics find common ground with the anti-gay Christian Right, who view gay people much the same way. And thus queer is still being used as an anti-gay slur.

    It is damaging to gay and lesbian youth to tell them not that they might grow up to be President or that they can choose their own path, but rather that the future that awaits them is one of conflict and marginalization. It is also insulting to gay people to tell them that their identity is just part of an umbrella term that includes everything that is not the norm, however unsavory, anti-social or harmful.

  38. Zian says:

    Gay people are not differently gendered. You have exposed the homophobia underlying the entire premise of LGBT.

  39. Dave says:

    This is hilarious because you scold John even while you violate one of the many rules of trans etiquette. In keeping with standard trans activist practice, I won’t even tell you which rule you violated. I’ll just accuse you and force you to research your own transgression.

    BTW, thanks for your “solution.” Now we can have a bewildering array of letters followed by a parenthetical explanation. Coming next: footnotes.

  40. David Thompkins says:

    You are assuming that Ts are in one community with LGBs. This is false. That community was created by fiat, but it doesn’t describe an actual entity that exists in reality. There is an organic community of people who are defined by sexual orientation and share a common innate trait of being attracted to their own sex. These are LGBs. You might include questioning people as well, but they are only included to the extent that they think they might be L or G or B, so I would say you don’t need a separate letter for them.

    I would be very happy to have one term to describe LGBs in lieu of letters and acronyms. “Gay” used to be that word, but because it was created by males it was thought to marginalize women. If we were to come up with a new term, it should be something like lesbian. Lesbian has historicity and dignity. It refers to a place and a time and indirectly, to a great poetess. And it tells lesbians that they are continuing that history today. If lesbians would allow it to be used more broadly, I’d be honored to call myself a lesbian. If they wouldn’t want to allow that, then we should come up with a comparable name based on some aspect of our common history to describe us all.

  41. David Thompkins says:

    I appreciate this post. Of course, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of how LGBT has hurt both gay people and trans people. The concept is reactionary and dishonest. It is neither pro-gay nor pro-trans. It disrespects both groups as it seeks to corral them together into an artificial entity for ideological purposes.

    Going from “gay” to “gay and lesbian” to “gay, lesbian and bisexual” or LGB was really a matter of giving visibility to different components of a community of homosexuals. One might object that the changes became cumbersome or wordy. (I personally, would have been happy to take “lesbian” as a universal descriptor, assuming that lesbians would have been OK with such a change.) But none of these changes raised any fundamental issue of gay identity. LGBT, by contrast, was a radical, wholesale change. Ts are not, by definition, homosexual. They are not defined by sexual orientation at all. It is an umbrella term that can include a wide variety of people, the vast majority of whom are heterosexuals.

    Ts are mostly heterosexuals – heterosexual hermaphrodites, heterosexual non-fetishistic crossdressers, heterosexual transsexuals, and heterosexuals who exhibit some gender nonconforming expression. These include folks who may never have met gay people, who may despise gay people, and who may discriminate against them, just as any other heterosexual might. It might include heteroseuxals who are sympathetic toward gays or who simply don’t care about gay people one way or the other.

    And then, in the late 1990s, by fiat, we are informed that our very identity is linked with these Ts. No discussion. No debate. No dissent. It is not enough to be friends with Ts or to be allies with them on certain issues. No, gays have no existence as a community apart from transgenders. We are a “people” with Ts. And, like clockwork, it is announced that it is henceforth immoral for gay people to fight for gay civil rights unless each gay rights bill specifically covers transgender issues. Better to have no rights at all than to disrespect the new religion of LGBT.

    Who decided all this? A bunch of activists that no one elected and who didn’t use “LGBT” themselves only a few years prior. That was an act of anti-gay violence, IMO. And it continues every day that LGBT continues to exist.

  42. bill says:

    I generally stick with Gay as that is what it was historically. The Gay Liberation Front and all. It’s historical, faster to spell, easier to say, and the people with whom I speak, especially the straight ones have an easier time with it than LGBTQQIAFMORELETTERS. Also, I may be considered small minded, but i did not accept Ms Birch deciding the order of letters and then telling the media that that was the order. So to me, it is still Gay. It was very effective when advocating for Gay youth in a school system as we spent our time on the issues and not constantly explaining the letters.

  43. karmanot says:

    Never mind :-)

  44. karmanot says:

    LOL……Make it so Captain! :-)

  45. karmanot says:

    Excellent comment

  46. karmanot says:

    Bites Spam.

  47. karmanot says:

    Hey, I certainly hope so. Can’t help it when you tell it like it is!

  48. Ninong says:

    “…which began around 1990.” That says it all right there. It would never, ever be used by anyone of my generation. I find it very offensive.

  49. Ninong says:

    Gay meant everybody for quite a long time and no matter what is currently considered politically correct, transsexuals will always be considered gay by the majority of straight people and quite a few, if not most, gay people. It was a lot better than “homosexuals,” “queers,” “sexual deviates,” “sexual perverts,” and other pejoratives that were actually used in the mainstream media when I was growing up. The last three terms were used probably more frequently than the first by mainstream newspapers and broadcast reporters in the ’40’s and ’50’s when I was young.
    I remember when the very first male-to-female sex change operations were being performed and the gay guys getting those procedures considered themselves gay. It wasn’t until years later that they started insisting that they were never, ever gay to begin with.
    I was 15 when Christine Jorgenson completed her sex change surgeries and started going on TV shows to be interviewed about her new life. It wasn’t until about 7 or 8 years later that the procedure became somewhat more commonplace and I actually knew three or four people who had it done.

  50. AnitaMann says:

    I would have to see the instances you refer to. By political, I don’t mean when the story is about politics, LGBT is used, and when it’s not political, it isn’t. I mean that L’s and G’s and the rest of the letters are clustered together in a sense of solidarity, even if we don’t all always get along, when the issue is “What does this whole diverse community” think about X or is doing about Z… The clunky aspect come in, imo, as far as reporting is concerned, when L’s and G’s and T’s are lumped together for issues where we’re not all on the same page. In that case… well maybe someone else has a better answer. But as for the LGBTQ-P-etc. designation hiding gayness… no. I think most people understand what the letters mean by this point.

  51. Eric says:

    Although I totally support inclusiveness and the LGBT acronym, I also have to say that the author is correct in assuming that not everyone knows what “LGBT” means, or even what the rainbow flag represents. As a grad student, I have met many international students who walk up to our table, (which sports a full-size rainbow flag and the name of our organization, “Pride”, but not the word “gay”) and still ask what our organization is about. They don’t know “LGBT”, but they *do* understand it when I say, “We’re gay”. I just feel like a terrible person when I reduce every LGBT person to that word.

  52. Jamie says:

    If you’re asexual and aromantic I have no idea. But as a romantic asexual I can tell you that I know I’m straight because I’m only interested in romantic relationships with the opposite gender. Just because sex is not really on my radar doesn’t mean everything else goes out the window. For the record, there’s a continuum on the asexual spectrum too. Sex doesn’t motivate me and I would have no problem going without it indefinitely, but sex also doesn’t bother me and I have a sexual partner so I participate for the benefit of our relationship.

  53. Ninong says:

    With any luck he will fall on his fabulous ass a couple of times in the trials and not make the team.

  54. Ninong says:

    Gay was inclusive. Every lesbian I knew was perfectly happy considering herself gay. They used the word lesbian when they wanted to but they didn’t object to being called gay or being considered part of “the gay community.”

    Gay was a big step up from some of the common pejoratives being used by the mainstream media when I was a teenager in the 1950’s. Adopting those pejoratives has never seem like a sensible option for me — too many bad memories. Even as late as 1973 the media continued to use the term “queers” when writing about gay people, as when the UpStairs Lounge burned and 32 people were killed. It was joked about by radio hosts reporting it and the Chief of Police said there was no way to be sure of the identities of the victims because it was a known hangout for “queers” and they were know to carry false identification.

    Most of the people killed were members of a Protestant denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church, who were having a social following their weeking service, which was held in the UpStairs Lounge on Sundays. It was also the final day of Pride Weekend. No church would agree to hold a service for the victims until the Rev. Wm. P. Richardson of St. George’s Episcopal Church agreed to hold a small prayer service for the victims the Monday after the arson attack fire. The next day he was rebuked by Iveson Noland, the Episcopal Bishop of New Orleans. More than 100 parishioners complained and the mailbox was filled with hate mail. The very idea that any Christian church should say prayers for those degenerate sinners was unforgivable. At that was 1973! I was already 35 then. Things were even worse in the 1950’s.

    So I’m not a fan of using the word “queer” in any context under any circumstances! I see no reason why “gay community” had to be changed. It was all inclusive. Adding a ‘Q’ to LGBT is laughable! Both Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres frequently refer to themselves as gay on TV, so they obviously consider themselves part of the broader gay community as well as being lesbians.

  55. The_Fixer says:

    Temporary pass? They’re temporarily part of the community until they are no longer questioning and figure out what the answer to the question is. Then they become full-fledged members of the community or (hopefully) allies.

    I think all of us who are members of the community were questioning at some point in our lives. I didn’t wake up one day and discover that I’m gay; it was a process. It could have been less of a process had I not been raised in a time when gay was viewed as being a bad thing. These days it’s less so in a lot of circumstances. Of course, some people still have that challenge, depending on their parents and the place where they live.

  56. pappyvet says:

    I thought I completely offended someone !

  57. BeccaM says:

    I’m not offended. ;-)

  58. BeccaM says:

    Ayep. They have conventions and everything.

  59. zorbear says:

    How about “H”…for “human”…?

  60. Bovine500 says:

    I don ‘t believe Anne Heche ever publicly referred to herself as bisexual before, during or after her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres. In a rambling interview in The Advocate after breaking up with Ellen, she said she disliked the idea of putting a label on anyone’s sexual orientation. Her point may have been well taken, but the interview in general gave the impression she was confused. I decided against reading her memoir.

    Cynthia Nixon may have dropped the ball with the way she made her sexual orientation public, and I agree that people had good reason to be upset with her. I also know from personal experience that bisexuals often get negative responses from gay men and lesbians when coming out of the closet. I’m not a public figure, but it took me a while to learn how to speak intelligently about my sexual orientation when gay “friends” were making AC/DC jokes. Someone might accurately say I learned who my real friends were, but when I was young I felt as if my back was against the wall. Those were the people I was supposed to feel safe with when I wanted to share something personal.

    When Anna Paquin made a casual announcement — saying she has been aware of being attracted to both sexes for a long time, and didn’t think it was a big deal — I remember reading negative comments from people who claimed she was no good for the cause because she was engaged to marry a man. Anna Paquin’s detractors couldn’t claim she was inarticulate, so they had to fall back on the fact that her committed relationship wasn’t with a woman. Hell if you do, hell if you don’t.

  61. Matt Rogers says:


  62. Buck says:

    I think it is more insidious than just “inning” us… it’s driving us farther and farther apart. When I first came out the community included everyone. We were gay… whether that meant gay men or gay women (lesbians) as well as anyone else. Everyone got along pretty well and worked together. That no longer seems to be the case. Everyone is so worried about how they “self identify” and coming up with ever changing proper and improper terminology that getting anything done is tough. I’ve had trans people scream at me that they didn’t “identify with the gay community!” OK, so get off my acronym, then. Likewise, the whole asexual thing is completely illogical. Why are they with us? Couldn’t they just as easily be with the straight community? How do you tell if you’re gay or straight if you’re asexual – meaning having no sexual attraction to anyone? It’s like MADD deciding to become part of a liquor industry advocacy group.

  63. Urso Bear says:

    I had a pollster once call me asking me about San Francisco political issues. Halfway in to the interview, she confessed that she didn’t know what “LGBT” meant. After telling her, she volunteered that she was in Las Vegas, he brother was gay and had told her a shocking fact: That straight people ACTUALLY OUTNUMBER gay people in San Francisco!

  64. Except Johnny Weir, who simply THINKS he’s fabulous.

  65. I don’t think MK’s comment was bad. I was kind of expecting to be scolded at the beginning of the comment, but didn’t end up taking it that way. I thought it was good, and interesting, and useful.

  66. I tend to use both too, along with “gay and trans” people, though that leaves out bisexuals.

  67. Yes, but that’s not the way it’s being used. I’m seeing it used as “LGBT students” and things like that, that have nothing to do with politics.

  68. Monoceros Forth says:

    (I feel tempted to quote “The Invention of Love” again but I won’t.)

    Being the sort of person I am, excessively concerned with language and its usage, I prefer abbreviations that can be made into pleasant-sounding acronyms to those that can’t. “GLBT” rolls off my tongue (sounding something like “glibt”) in a way that “LGBT” does not. Turning “GBLT” into “giblet” had never occurred to me.

    “Omnisexual” is better than “pansexual” because both of its halves are Latin, whereas “pansexual” is some vile hybrid of Latin and Greek (cf. “homosexual”, rightly condemned as such by A. E. Housman in “The Invention of Love”–there, I did it anyway.)

  69. I didn’t even know people made Anne Heche jokes. But putting that aside, did she identity as bi when she was partnered with Ellen? If she didn’t the sudden switch to a man might have been a bit surprising to everyone, I seem to remember it was to me.

    As for Cynthia Nixon, I come down pretty heavy on everyone and anyone who says their sexual orientation is a choice. I came down hard on her too. That has nothing to do with her being bi, imho. It had to do with her making some very inarticulate comments that are harmful to us politically, and then taking a while to clear them up. You’ll also recall that she was a bit feisty when she made the comment initially, suggesting that people were going to get upset with her, but too bad. That made it sound less inarticulate and more messed up.
    Which added to the negative response.

  70. No, others have been having problems with comments that aren’t showing up – Dr. Thoma, who writes our medical stuff, had the same problem today. I pass him email to Disqus, so hopefully they’re figuring out what’s going on.

  71. karmanot says:

    I just got a headache.

  72. karmanot says:

    That works. :-)

  73. karmanot says:


  74. pappyvet says:

    WOW, apparently my comment was not welcome, I assure you it will never happen again

  75. Indigo says:

    I’m good with that.

  76. Sandanista Behotha says:

    Totally trite.

    Pure filler.

  77. SFExPat says:

    I like “giblet” myself as a mnemonic device for remembering the acronym, so I use GBLT. Not putting down my lesbian sisters, but it helps me remember the alphabet. For awhile in SF we were using “gibletquip” (GBLTQQIP) and I actually almost got to fisticuffs with a person who didn’t like the “pansexual”, insisted it should be “omnisexual”. Does it matter whether your word comes from Latin or Greek?

  78. Carol Schmidt says:

    When the general population hears the word “gay,” they think of a (usually white young healthy fit middle class) gay male. LGBT puts lesbian, bi and transgender right in there with gay, a very big step forward, IMO, since lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people were invisible under the word gay. I’m sorry you consider it a step backward. A better solution to both our concerns would be for groups to spell out in parentheses after LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people).

  79. SFExPat says:

    John, et al, I am a gay transman. Where am I supposed to include myself if not under the GBLT umbrella?

  80. jb says:

    Gay did always include men and women – I remember reading a story by Gertrude Stein about two ladies who had tea “and were gay,” and they went to Paris “and were gay there”. I know many women who would identify as gay.

    That said, it doesn’t really include bisexual people – especially the large number (majority?) in opposite sex relationships – or trans people who identify as straight. I’m bisexual; I don’t feel included under “gay”. My life and experiences are just very different.

    I still like queer, but maybe because I’m young enough and grew up in a liberal city — the first time I heard “queer” used without reference to Winnie the Pooh was hearing about Queer Nation.

  81. caphillprof says:

    It would be helpful if we used a term which was broadly understood by the public at large as to its meaning. I too think “gay” fits the bill.

    LGBTQ may appease individuals within the movement, but does nothing to explain bisexuality or transgender to the outsiders.

  82. Inis_Magrath says:

    I’m a Jew. If asked, I’ll say I’m Jewish. But — and this is the point — there are many different kinds of people, subgroups, beliefs, lifestyles, etc., that refer to themselves as Jews. Namely, for example, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Secular, Haredi, Lubavitcher, Chasidic, Modern Orthodox, and many many more.

    All these disparate groups are comfortable calling themselves, simply, Jews. But Judaism has been around for millenia. So, maybe after a few thousand years of nonchalant acceptance in society, all of the LGBTQQII people will become comfortable calling themselves simply gay — or whatever word emerges to embrace them.

    I for one look forward to embracing simplicity. I intend no slight or disrespect to anyone. When I use the term gay, I mean all of the above.

  83. BeccaM says:

    “Sexually Evolved.” (SE for short.)

  84. caphillprof says:

    The more you subdivide an alleged community, the greater the risk of actually excluding the most marginalized and the greater the risk of ceasing to be any community at all.

  85. caphillprof says:

    How can a questioning person be included in any community other than as a non-member observer?

  86. Monoceros Forth says:

    “…like to dress up in furry animal costumes.”

    Don’t need a new word for that, sparky ;)

  87. caphillprof says:

    I always love it when sensitivity trumps progress.

  88. The_Fixer says:

    One of my favorite permutations is QUILTBAG.

    Q for Questioning or (gender)Queer, U for undermined, I for Intersexed, L for Lesbian, B for Bisexual, A for Asexual and G for Gay.

    Part of me wants to laugh at the whimsical made-up acronym, another part of me wants to be inclusive and therefore, respectful.

    In the end, I think AnitaMann has it right.

  89. ChicagoJeff1 says:

    I agree 100% John! Where do you stop? Why not just include every existent group that is somehow marginalized? If the argument is that it’s inclusive in terms of sexual issues, then let’s also include those who abstain from sex, have taken a purity oath or like to dress up in furry animal costumes.

  90. Naja pallida says:

    My CDO requires that it be BGLQT.

  91. karmanot says:

    heterosexuals might be referred to as non gay units.

  92. karmanot says:

    Gays are from fabulous.

  93. karmanot says:

    Not bad, but would include straights.

  94. karmanot says:

    How about: Darwinpositive?

  95. karmanot says:

    It is so easy to get into the weeds with this semantics circus. For example: why not G/LBQ?

  96. karmanot says:

    I am just grateful I can still remember GLTBQ. I add the ‘Q’ because I am trying to change and retire my loathing of the word ‘queer.’ In my day that word meant run like hell or fight to the death.

  97. gaylib says:

    I think you’re overreacting. People want to be sensitive when discussing persecuted minorities, which in my opinion is a good thing. Think of the multiple incarnations of describing people of color, black, African American, etc. people just don’t want to offend and what’s wrong with that? When we say its bad to say “that’s gay” but good to call someone gay, is it any wonder that straight allies want something as neutral and “safe” as possible?

  98. dcinsider says:

    You cannot even raise this discussion without pissing off the Tran-police. However, I credit John for doing this.

  99. dcinsider says:

    Gay works. Anyone who refuses to accept it is a segregationist.

  100. dcinsider says:

    AMEN! AMEN! I could not agree more John.

  101. Hue-Man says:

    John, as Master of All You Survey, you are able to use whatever style you want – the complainers will eventually give up – as long as it doesn’t involve a ban on all capital letters. (i once had to read a journal where the owner had banned all capital letters, including countries and proper names. stumbling over lower case made it very difficult to keep what he was saying in focus)

    We’re trying to simplify the complexity of human sexuality into a small number of broad classifications, much like race; I’m white but so are fair-skinned Scandinavians and swarthy southern Europeans (are Lebanese white?, etc.) I’m not a fan of alphabet soup and will use gay most of the time and LGBT (NOT GLBT) for a more inclusive grouping. Non-straight?

    There is a straight sensibility (even though their sexual behavior may be no different from someone who identifies as LGBT). An Ontario gay politician’s husband has been reported missing, presumably suffering a medical crisis in Toronto’s current 40C (104F) humidex weather; one reader complained about the use of “husband” in the headline, referring to it as “cringe-worthy”! Hubby was found this a.m. and has been taken to hospital.

  102. Indigo says:

    That was Edward Carpenter’s choice around the end of the 19th century. He had a pseudo-mystical explanation to go along with it based on the intuitive aspects of the planet Uranus in astrology but that approach degenerates into absurdity when you say Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Gays are from . . .

  103. Indigo says:

    I agree with you.

  104. nicho says:

    I think it was a supposition someone made that “gay” referred only to men. I don’t see any historical evidence for that. “Gay” was a code word — back in the day when we had to speak in code (if you’re old enough, you remember that). When I was young, it encompassed men, women, and anyone else who was part of our community. Bars were “gay bars,” whether they were for men, women, or both. Then someone got their knickers in a knot and decided we needed to be “inclusive,” and the alphabet soup started expanding. I agree — gay could do the job.

  105. nicho says:

    How about “DG” — differently gendered.

  106. nicho says:

    I can never remember the order the letters are supposed to go in and end up sounding like I’m babbling (which, admittedly, sometimes I am).

  107. MK says:

    After all the hard work it took for bisexual and transgender folks to find explicit inclusion in the movement, I expect this proposal would spark outrage in many corners. I do appreciate your arguments (one of them being, essentially, that “LGBT” doesn’t actually count as explicit inclusion because we are not actually saying the full words…right?). But despite your obviously good intentions and fair arguments, I think the proposal risks offending a lot of people who fought very hard against bisexual erasure and trans invisibility. That’s not to say, necessarily, that you shouldn’t make your points. But it will be a very, very tough sell. Plus, I think there is value in making the public understand (as best we can) that we are a diverse community, and that orientation and identity are distinct concepts. (Also, don’t recent surveys suggest that bisexuals outnumber gays and lesbians and trans* people? Seems strange to cut the B out if they’re the largest group of the 4…)
    And particularly given that I don’t really share your qualms about using the (admittedly imperfect) “LGBT,” and that I have serious discomfort about abandoning the LBT part of it, I don’t expect I’ll join you in this particular battle…though I appreciate the thought-provoking piece! Best, MK

  108. Bovine500 says:

    I’m bisexual, and when I first began seeing “LGBT” in print I hoped it demonstrated progress in making the gay rights movement more inclusive.

    Sadly, years have passed since then and I’m still hearing Anne Heche jokes. The so-called humor suggests she’s unstable because she’s bisexual, or her instability was what made her bisexual. Either way, jokes at the expense of a fragile person aren’t funny. Similar remarks about an openly gay or lesbian public figure would create controversy, but apparently Anne Heche is fair game.

    When Cynthia Nixon came out as a lesbian, that earned her some “LGBT” support. When she tried to clarify that statement by saying she was actually bi, she had the misfortune of speaking inarticulately. I didn’t judge her for that, but she got a negative reaction in some internet comment columns. Actually, she just spoke the truth when she made the awkward statement that “people don’t like bisexuals.” She had originally come out as lesbian because it opened a smaller can of worms.

    I hope some transgender readers will contribute to this comment thread to offer their observations on the LGBT label.

  109. Monoceros Forth says:

    “We aren’t anything till there’s a word for it,” as Chamberlain says in Tom Stoppard’s “The Invention of Love”.

    As a collective term I’ve been using “GLBT” recently; it strikes me as more euphonious than “LGBT” but this is strictly a personal preference.

  110. BeccaM says:

    Not bad… not bad at all.

  111. BeccaM says:

    I concur. I mean, I grew up in those times, and I understand why the LGBT community adopted ‘queer’ as an act of defiance against the hetero-normative status quo.

    But yeah… the fact it’s a synonym for ‘strange’ and had been used in the past as an epithet, to my mind, taints the word ‘queer’ as an umbrella term.

  112. karmanot says:

    “LGBT is a political designation” bingo

  113. AnitaMann says:

    No. LGBT is a political designation, for a whole group of people. When it’s an individual, use gay or lesbian. As in, the gay actor… The doctor, who’s also a lesbian… But not “meet my LGBT friend, Ben.” It’s also so news outlets don’t have to write out “gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer rights and also sometimes people who consider themselves pansexual, and then there are those who like to be called queer even though it used to be pejorative…” every time. C’mon John that was an easy one.

  114. karmanot says:

    Gay still works

  115. karmanot says:

    I feel the same.

  116. FLL says:

    “Queer” has been used a lot in an academic context or in the film industry, and I don’t find it offensive in those contexts. Examples would be “the new queer cinema,” which began around 1990, and the habit in higher education of referring to “the department of queer studies.”

    On the other hand, when it comes to talking about people, I agree with you that there should be a different term that includes everyone who does not sign an oath in blood stating that they will observe the sexual taboos of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). In ancient times, that amounted to the entire population. That’s why, if you’ve noticed, I often use the phrase “gay or bisexual” when I’m writing. It’s an important question that will only become more important as the century unfolds. I’m trying to phrase this so as not to offend delicate sensibilities, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Some writers might tweak the phrase in your own comment and use the phrase “not hetero exclusive.”

  117. karmanot says:

    Never thought of it that way….GLTBQ comes quite naturally to me and the inclusiveness seems a good thing.

  118. ConfusedMouse says:

    I think queer had the pejorative connotations BEFORE it was adopted as a term for sexual orientation/gender identity. It’s a synonym for strange, and I dislike it greatly when people use it to describe me, and hesitate and have a hard time using it to describe others, even when it’s their preferred word. -_-

  119. FLL says:

    When I’m writing, I tend to use “LGBT” once for every five times I use “gay.” That way, the reader understands what I’m talking about, but can’t really complain that I’m not being inclusive. I would prefer to err on the side of having everyone understand what I’m talking about.

  120. BeccaM says:

    Sounds to me we need a new word that means the same thing as ‘queer’, but without the pejorative connotations it’s acquired over the decades.

    Something that encompasses both non-hetero-exclusive sexual orientation and non-compliant gender identity and/or presentation.

  121. Paul Berge says:

    Uranian? (ugh.)

  122. fletcher says:

    I thought the Chicago radio station that used to broadcast from the corner of Lawrence and Gale streets in Jefferson Park said it best. It was “LesBeGay Radio.”

  123. I’d propose gay. Im not sure what else there is. As you note, queer bothers some people, sexual minority sounds like homosexual, very clinical.

  124. Well, it depends. If you accept the word “gay” to mean the entire community, then it does mean everywhere. But it is hard when the community gets to be a lot of words – we can’t expect everyone to write it all out, and then you have the problem I define above.

  125. Savage8862 says:

    Thank you John!. I have been saying this for years. The continuing expansion of our alphabet at once thought to spotlight our diverse community only served and serves to separate our community…if you can even call it a community anymore.

  126. MK says:

    “And I can appreciate the valid arguments of bi and trans people that the word ‘gay’ might not exactly define who they are.” This is important, but I would go farther by taking “might not exactly” out of this sentence and replacing it with “does not.” “Gay” and “bi” are not the same orientation, and “gay” and “trans” don’t even refer to the same concept. We could hope that the word “gay” would be expanded to encompass more people/groups, but it’s hard to force that sort of thing, and it’s not clear everyone would like the idea….Again, tough issues…

  127. MK says:

    Ongoing dilemma for the community – who are we what do we call ourselves?. I understand your concern, but I don’t really think that “LGBT” serves to “in” anybody. And I don’t see a better alternative right now, even though I see LGBT as imperfect. “Queer” alienates a lot of people; “gay” excludes a lot of people; spelling out every word in LGBT is maybe OK but ultimately won’t catch on because it’s cumbersome for people writing about this stuff and they just won’t do it consistently even if “we” insist. Adding letters to LGBT (like QQIA) is a good idea for purposes of inclusion, but often gets met with resistance and confusion (there are only so many letters we can add before people refuse to adopt our chosen abbreviation). “Sexual minority” is another option, but some people reject the emphasis on “sexual.” So it’s tough. Do you have a proposal?

  128. Indigo says:

    Alphabet soup is not the answer.
    We’re here.
    We’re queer.
    Get used to it.

  129. S1AMER says:

    I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable about dividing all people into one of two camps: the heterosexuals who believe the gender on their birth certificates is correct and “everybody else”. Yeah, we in the second group share the fact that significant (but shrinking) numbers in the other group want to limit our rights. Beyond that, though, we don’t always share the same goals and aims, and there’s often something quite oversimplifyingly artificial about tossing us all into the same pot.

    We still have many occasions for making common cause. But we’re not all the same, and we shouldn’t all be lumped into one group all the time — that cheats us of the uniqueness represented by easy letter of whatever initialism is in use.

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