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'Diversities' May Enrich 'LGBTQIAP' Alphabet Soup

09/19/2013 06:16 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
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As millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender individuals have come out and organized over the past half-century, groups fighting for their rights have forged quite a few recognizable political identities that have earned them a spot in a queer melting pot that commentators sometimes refer to as the "alphabet soup." When broken down, the various basic constituents of the full "LGBTQIAP" acronym are understandable, other than perhaps the rationale for their order:

  • L = "lesbian"
  • G = "gay"
  • B = "bisexual"
  • T = "transgender"
  • Q = "queer" or "questioning"
  • I = "intersex"
  • A = "asexual" or "allies"
  • P = "polyamorous" or "pansexual"

The acronym is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, there has never been consensus as to whether gay men or lesbians should head the list, which has led to confusing proliferation of both "GL-" (e.g., GLBTHistory.org) and "LG-" (e.g., LGBTQNation.com) versions. However, we now know that bisexuals make up the largest segment of the LGBTQIAP population, so it makes sense that the "B" be placed first, letting the rest of the letters fall alphabetically or by the percentage of the population that they represent.

As the completely un-mnemonic acronym now stands, and even if the letters were shuffled into something like "BGLTIQPA," almost a third of the acronym represents at least 10 separate identities.

Bi activist and educator Robyn Ochs has stated:

I prefer to use identities as adjectives rather than as proper nouns, as tools for communication rather than viewing them as fixed boxes into which we must attempt to squeeze ourselves. For this reason, I welcome the proliferation of creative and new identity words....

She also cautions:

When someone shares one of their identities with you, please don't assume that you know exactly what they mean when they use that word. Its meaning can get quite distorted in the space between their mouth and your ear (or their fingers on the keyboard and your eyes).

Rather, someone who takes the time and effort to share their identity words with you is giving you a gift, possibly an invitation to a conversation. If you care about that person, ask them to tell you more about what that identity means to them.

In the 1990s "rainbow" became a popular stand-in for the common acronym, reflecting the increasing variety of gender and sexual minorities, with the rainbow flag becoming a ubiquitous and recognizable queer symbol worldwide. However, the term never really caught on, particularly since Rev. Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition had claimed that term in 1984.

Since 2009 I have advocated using the expression "gender and sexual minorities," or the acronym "GSM," as the collective political term for people who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. This term adequately expresses who we are as a political entity, but still, the stigma against "minorities" might be avoided.

While early GSM communities struggled to discover and create their own identities, working sometimes against other GSM communities, over time we have recognized our unity in a joined struggle for civil rights for all, regardless of sexual or gender identity.

So it was welcome news when therapists in the UK came out this year in favor of a splendid refinement of the term "gender and sexual minorities," replacing "minorities" with "diversities." In terms of rebranding "LGBTQIAP," a shift to "gender and sexual diversities" is very appealing. The expression is concise, positive, accurate, and inclusive.

Still, knowing that some queer folk will find the term "diversities" or the acronym "GSD" objectionable, I offer one more suggestion as to how to refer to the pluralistic spectrum of gender- and sexually diverse individuals. It takes its lead from "queer" but then leads into a homonymic refinement of "community": "qumunity." Vancouver has adopted a version of this, "Qmunity," for the name of its GSD community center.

Given our vast creative power, as well as the major advances in GSD civil rights in the past decade, isn't it time that we came up with something fresher, tastier, and more nourishing than last century's canned alphabet soup?