TW: Homophobic slurs, brief description of homophobic violence and rape threats.
In the past few years there is an increasing tendency of the “LGBT community,” as it was formerly known, to be grouped under the umbrella term “queer” (or, often, LGBTQ, LGBTQA, LGBTIQA, LGBTQQIAAP, LGBTQQIAAPABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, etc). Earlier this year, the Huffington Post (to which I am a contributor) changed the name of their “Gay Voices” channel to “Queer Voices,” because, as they put it: “we believe that word is the most inclusive and empowering one available to us to speak to and about the community.”
Surely there is much to be said for an inclusive umbrella term that is ambiguous enough for everyone to relate to (and helps avoid those absurd acronyms). Since I am not a member of the LGBT+ community (which is the acronym I will use for the sake of convenience and clarity just for the rest of this post) I am not going to offer my unwanted opinion about how the community, or individuals, should identify themselves.
Rather, I want to take a moment to speak to the progressive Christian denominations, clergy, and thinkers who are engaged in outreach towards the LGBT+ community. It is an honorable mission, and one of the most important ones there is in modern American Christianity.
However, I would suggest that using the term “queer” in such outreach efforts is not only not our place, but is actively detrimental to the mission itself. Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing a lot of it.
See, not everyone in the LGBT+ community is actually okay with reclamation of the word. No, I don’t have numbers or statistics for you; what I have is anecdotal and based on research on the internet. Still, the fact that there is even still a debate around this issue should give us pause.
A friend of mine, who is a millennial (despite what some of the counterpoint articles online might have you think, not even all millennial members of the LGBT+ community are happy with the word) put it pointedly when she said:
“Queer is a shitty umbrella term and ignores those of us with PTSD associated with the word…the fact that cishet people now think it’s okay for them to refer to us as that word makes me sick to my stomach. They were calling me that word when they pounded my head into a brick wall and asked if they could ‘fuck the queer outta me.'”
I can attest to the fact that growing up, I heard the Q-word used as a slur many, many times. In my straight-male experience, it was often used as an insult to emasculate boys who did not live up to the patriarchy’s traditional “male” gender roles, barely a step below “faggot.” This tendency may be geographical; the friend I quoted above certainly thinks so: “Most of the people I know from small Midwestern towns only experienced it as a slur…I had no idea it had been reclaimed by anyone till I was in college.”
Of course I believe there should be a word that all members of the LGBT+ community can be comfortable with, that is empowering and helpful. “Queer” may or may not be it; that is not for me to decide.
My concern is that, as Christians preaching the gospel of love and acceptance, we need to remember that there are many, many people out there who are still left out by that word. More than left out, even; there are people who have extreme trauma associated with that word and may find it triggering. Combined with the fact that the word’s use as a slur is almost certainly associated in many cases with Christian homophobia, you can see why our use of the term might be a terrible idea.
If you personally identify as queer, this is not meant for you. I would never tell someone how to identify themselves. But if you are a cis-het Christian concerned with bringing members of the LGBT+ community into the Church (whichever church you belong to), I strongly suggest you stay away from the Q-word.