LGBTQ: What's in a Name?

Most people know about gay rights, and most people have heard or used the term LGBTQ, but many don't fully get what it means to be something other than gay or lesbian. Each of the letters of LGBTQ have a distinct meaning and group of people it represents. So to get to the bottom of it all, DS caught up with a young bisexual woman who has been through it all herself. Read on to get the facts on what it means to be bi...

Squished in Between

I wouldn’t have dared bring another girl to my high-school prom. I went to a small prep school in Cambridge, Massachusetts—a liberal school in an ultra-liberal town. People were, for the most part, comfortable with the “gay community.”

They were not, however, as comfortable with the “LGBTQ community”. I never completely understood this distinction in their eyes, and I still don’t. Maybe it’s because it is difficult to pronounce; it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Maybe it’s because people don’t know what the letters stand for and are embarrassed to misuse it. Maybe some people aren't sure what it means to be bisexual, to be transgendered, to be questioning. Maybe some people just don't care.

Well, I do. That letter squished in the middle matters to me. The uppercase “B” matters to me. I am a bisexual female. That's right, I am attracted to both men and women, smack dab in between “straight” and “gay” and proud of it.

Growing Up Bi

It hasn't defined me, but it is an important part of me. In high school no one knew me as Caroline: the bisexual. They knew me as Caroline: the artist, the vegetarian, the redhead. No one classified me by my sexuality because it was assumed that I was straight. My peers said I didn’t exude any of the “gay qualities” and people thought I was “normal.” Because I had only had boyfriends in school when I was younger and because I had never had an official “coming out” everyone brushed off the label. They assumed I was joking or lying or going through a “phase.”

My school had a “Gay-Straight Alliance" group, but I wasn't a part of it. At first, I didn't think much of the name or that it didn't include "bisexual". It wasn’t until I realized that those were the only two sexual orientation groups represented in the club that I started to consider it. None of the bisexuals I knew were part of it. In fact, the group consisted almost exclusively of gay boys and straight girls. I started to think that the name may be turning some people away so I suggested to the president of the club that they change the name to LGBTQ. The response was not positive, but was basically: “It’s too confusing,” “It’s too many letters,” “Who cares?”

Get It Straight: The Facts Behind LGBTQ

Well, let me clarify and break down the LGBTQ, in the hopes of getting some people to care. Each of those capitalized letters represents an underrepresented group: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning. My generation was the first to grow up with the acronym. However, because it did not become widely accepted until the 90s, it is still not used as often as “gay”. The entire LGBTQ movement is still young and before the sexual revolution of the 1960s, there was no common non-derogatory vocabulary for non-heterosexuality.

There is a long history of language before LGBTQ came about. The first term used was “homosexual” but was thought to carry negative connotations and was replaced with the term “gay.” As lesbians began to forge their own identity in correlation with the feminist movement, the term expanded to “gay and lesbian”. Soon after this room was made, bisexual and transgender people began asking for recognition as legitimate categories in the larger community as well.

Sadly, some sub-categories of LGBTQ like bisexual and transgender groups have had trouble being recognized within the community. Bisexuals were, and in some cases still are either being pushed away from the “gay community” or are doing the pushing themselves.

The common stereotypes about bisexuals are that they are “confused.” Many consider them to be gay men or lesbian women who are afraid to “come out” and be honest about their identity.

Yet the fact that the term LGBTQ exists and is used to any extent shows how far the movement has come. There is criticism of the term from both members of the community and people outside.

Signs of Inclusion

To me, the term is a positive symbol of inclusion and, over time, it has become a way to bring otherwise marginalized individuals into the general community. The “Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth”—also known as “BAGLY” (because it sounds pretty) is where I found my niche in the gay community. They hold proms and Halloween dances and discos for members of every community—including straight people. Over the years, BAGLY events have become some of the biggest and best events in Boston.

I brought a boy to my first BAGLY prom and a girl to my second. That's just me.