Nomenclature: What really matters

Editor's Note

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: October 18, 2008 in Editor's Note, Opinion

At the end of September a South Carolina gentleman sent out a letter to local LGBT leaders and news publications. His “beef” was with the recent announcement that the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement had officially requested its board of directors for permission to legally change its name to the South Carolina Pride Movement.

The change, taking out the words “gay and lesbian,” sparked concern in the gentleman.

“I spoke up against this idea and what seems to be a step backwards by using a generic name like SC Pride,” the man wrote. “This felt like a slap in the face, asking me to essentially hide my identity and ‘go back in the closet.’”

The gentleman said he remembers what it was like to participate in that first South Carolina Gay Pride march in 1990. “I feel I risked my life…marching in downtown Columbia just so we could be recognized as gay men and lesbians. Now SCGLPM is asking us to ignore all the hard work and risk of physical danger many faced as well as the real possibility of being shunned by anyone.”

The gentleman has valid concerns. There is no doubt about that. From his perspective, taking out any language that identifies the group as an LGBT organization is pushing it “back into the closet.”

On the other hand, however, the gentleman fails to recognize another equally valid point: The current name, which includes “gay and lesbian,” at the same time ignores other parts of our community. People who identify as bisexual, transgender or queer will certainly not find themselves reflected in an organization that is simply “gay and lesbian.”

Debates of this type surround another organization — the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. For years they’ve faced outspoken folks from the LGBT community who say the organization’s name doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of the entire community. The Task Force has tried flying under a name that takes out “gay and lesbian,” but what “task force” exactly is it? There are thousands of “task forces” in the nation.

Other Carolinas organizations have opted to completely take out any mention of sexual identification in their names: Equality North Carolina, South Carolina Equality, Pride Charlotte, the North Carolina Pride Fest and Parade, the Triad Equality Alliance, the Guilford Green Foundation, the Alliance for Full Acceptance, Sean’s Last Wish, Equality Asheville, Safe Streets Asheville Project, OutWilmington and many, many more.

The trick to organizational nomenclature is being able to balance an outwardly LGBT identity for the group while at the same time not leaving anyone out of the organization’s name. Unfortunately, our “alphabet soup” of a group identifier is too bulky — and, let’s face it, no one wants to continuously spout off a bunch of letters that make absolutely no sense to the world around us. Just imagine how long our already too-long group names would be if we had to had every word represented by the L, the G, the B and the T (and what about that Q, and the other Q, and the I, A and P?).

If it were up to me, I’d just call us all queer and get over it, but that doesn’t work either. Too many LGBT people still feel the real world pain that the decades-old negative use of the word “queer” has caused us. Until the word is fully reclaimed, we’ll never be able to use it as a wholesale identifier.

There are, however, better things to do with our time than to argue over our organization’s names. We could all better use our time by helping our neighbors, friends and families come to terms with who we are. We could volunteer more. We could get out and knock on doors, helping registering people to vote. We could volunteer for a local candidate’s campaign or the local AIDS service organization.

When so much is at stake in the next two weeks, the least we should be worrying about is organizational nomenclature. Forget the drama, and focus on what really matters: Unity, Victory and Change in 2008.