When I identify myself as an LGBTQIA+ writer, I feel somewhat like I’m overstating who I am, as if I’m claiming omnisexuality. The string of letters waving like a rainbow flag across the page don’t immediately spell out how I fit into that Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual+ community. Sexuality is fluid of course, and being all over the map sexually sounds like great fun, but most of us gravitate to a niche where we feel comfortable.
Whenever I use the acronym I think back to another era, the early 1970s, when I attended a monthly Gay Services meeting at college – and literally added the L into the acronym. Like everyone else in attendance, excepting the leadership, I showed up only when I had time. That evening, a few young women I’d never seen before came to put a motion on the table – to add the word Lesbian to the organization’s name and an L to its acronym, GS (Gay Services). Gay, one woman said, had a boys-only connotation. She and her friends didn’t feel the organization represented who they were and said many lesbians didn’t feel comfortable seeking support from a boy’s club.
I felt their discomfort. I didn’t even like the G at the time, and would have preferred the organization be called Queer Services or Homosexual Services. I’ve always had issues with the G word, which had come into fashion at the time. To my thinking, appropriating a happier, gay word for homophobic dolts to digest defeated the purpose of encouraging them to accept our queer selves. To really change people’s attitudes toward us I preferred to dispel the pejorative connotation of queer and homosexual.
I brought this up at the meeting but was shot down by the leadership, who contended Gay was chosen because the word homosexual emphasized the sex. My curt reply, “If it’s not about the sex, then what the hell is it about?” met with dismissive scoffs, as if “grasshopper” still had a lot to learn.
After discussion we took a vote whether to rebrand our organization as Gay and Lesbian Services. The leadership tallied votes down two sides of the table, and when it came to me seated at the end of the table, the vote was tied, five-five. Thus, by virtue of arriving late, taking that last chair and the attendance being odd in number, I would cast the tie-breaker.
I voted for inclusivity, the motion passed and we became Gay and Lesbian Services (GLS). Even if it was a just one word, one letter of the acronym at a local organization – I can’t help but feel partly responsible for the parade of letters in the acronym we rally behind today.
When the L transported itself to the front of the line of letters in our acronym, I don’t recall. There assuredly have been countless meetings across the country and around the world since then, growing our acronym.
Certainly at the next GLS meeting I attended, I found the leadership had changed. Women were in charge – and my ostracism from the former leadership clique was complete. Displeasure with my vote was evident from their cold shoulders and terse looks: they had not been for inclusion. I have to laugh thinking about it today. At times I found the old leadership clique as domineering as straights who declared homosexuality was an illness. When a young man admitted he swung both ways, the leadership questioned whether bi’s were just gay guys who couldn’t come out – as if you must be either straight or gay, A or B and no inbetweens. When another young man suggested that he might be asexual, the leadership felt compelled to remind him that he’d come to a gay organization. Suddenly, the sex part seemed intrinsic to the leadership! I think that man never showed again.
Certainly the women and I were on to something when we voted to change the organization’s name. Sexual identity is as difficult to label as it is individual, and is even fluid as some people change orientation. I certainly leave myself open to change if I feel it. Yet I remain the Q in the acronym. But also part of a greater community of inclusivity. Even if the LGBTQIA+ acronym has grown unwieldy – certainly any acronym of more than three letters screams it wants to be a word – it does spell PRIDE perfectly, in a way everyone can feel included.