I’d buried the lede, of sorts, in an earlier post I wrote about a gay rights protest in Moscow. What was most important about the post was that the Russians are putting into practice the draconian anti-gay “propaganda” legislation they passed earlier this summer. It should give every human rights advocate chills, especially since the Russians have repeatedly threatened to arrest Olympic athletes, guests and media at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But there was a more subtle aspect to the story that matters to us all. The fact that a local Muscovite, watching the police man-handle the protesters, jumped into to defend the protesters until she found out that they were gay. That was bad enough. But what intrigued me was that when a protester told the woman that it was an “LGBT” protest, she responded “what’s that?”
I’ve been worried for a while now that the use of the all-inclusive abbreviation LGBT has basically “inned” our community in a way that isn’t helpful to our visibility or advancing our rights. So I’m reposting my analysis from the other post, with a bit more analysis from me, as I think this deserves its own discussion.
First, what happened, via the NYT:
[T]he intervention of the bystanders begins when an older woman steps in and tells the officers, “You can’t act like that.”
She then turns to a man behind her and says, “Hey man, help out.”
The man, wearing a black hat and a leather jacket, then says: “Major. Officer. What did they do?”
A short time later, as the confusion continues, a female protester in a black jacket and a rainbow scarf explains to the woman and an officer, “We are protecting the rights of L.G.B.T.”
The officer asks, “What’s that?”
The protester replies, “Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders.”
The older woman asks, “You’re for them?”
The protester says, “We’re for them.”
The older woman says: “Ohhhhhhhh no. Then no.”
I’ve argued repeatedly that the gay community has inned itself with its embrace of an ever-growing abbreviation – LGBT – that far too many people outside of our community have even heard of. Let alone the fact that the abbreviation changes on a nearly annual basis (the letters get rearranged, in addition to new letters regularly being added), so just as people start to become familiar with it, it changes again.
I’m reminded of the big immigration rally in Washington, DC, and nationwide, in spring of 2010. There was quite a large gay contingent that completely inned itself with it signage that never once mentioned the word “gay.” I will bet that very few people in the throng of one million who attended the march had any idea what “immigration equality” or “LGBT families” were. It was a brilliant move to include our contingent in the rally. It was a rather tone deaf move, in terms of the goal of being involved in the march – to show visibility and build aliances – to avoid any mention of the word gay.
Same thing with a recent press release from a company that was trying to show how gay-inclusive it was. It didn’t use the word “gay” once. There were a few “LGBT”s thrown in, sure, but “gay” came up only by chance when the company listed a few groups it funded, including one that had “gay” in the title.
I can’t think of a better way for a company to hide its involvement in supporting gay rights than by using the abbreviation LGBT and not once using the word gay. It’s a brilliantly homophobic tactic, really. By using the abbreviation LGBT, the gay, bi and trans community(ies) will know what it means. And far-right activists will as well. But the majority of people won’t have a clue. And at the same time, a lot of people who might know the abbreviation are going to miss the release altogether since anyone looking for “gay” stories on Google tends to search for “gay” (or lesbian, bisexual or trans). None of those are coming up if the story or document only uses the abbreviation LGBT.
Heck, I don’t even search for stories by typing in “LGBT,” I search for “gay” or “bisexual” or “trans.”
It’s all well and good for liberals to have an inclusiveness streak, it’s what makes us fight for civil rights in the first place. But we’re not always the most PR savvy folks out there. You can’t fight for gay rights if you’re afraid to say the word gay. Our community has always put a premium on “coming out.” We are strongest when we are visible. And we’re not visible when we hide behind ever-changing abbreviations that most people have never heard of.
If people feel the need to say LGBT, fine. But throw in the word gay and trans occasionally, and bi too – because if you don’t, you’re doing all of them a disservice.