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. :)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | 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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