This week, the Center for the Study of Equality and Human Rights ended its “Let’s Make It Better Now” video contest, aimed at reducing bullying for LGBT youth. I highly encourage you to check out the entries into the contest on Youtube. Many of them are heartfelt and inspiring; certainly, they are the best representations of EMU’s accepting spirit.
However, what was immediately obvious to me was the uniformity of acceptance for the christening of the targeted audience as the “LGBT Community.” Granted, the Center used the term itself so the submissions may have just complied with the term, but I think examining the label is extremely important.
From the outset, I want to clarify I am aware the “LGBT” acronym is being added to. For example, though I rarely see it used, LGBTQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Allies) seems to be the longest. So, for my purposes, I will use the common LGBT to refer to that same collective population.
An Advocate.com article from Oct. 15 takes an interesting perspective by arguing the ever-expanding scope of the community makes it harder to connect with the community in the first place. The author elucidates, “The more it [the acronym] grew, the harder it became to swallow. And identify with. The more groups it represented, the further away from my experience it drifted.”
Apart from individual experience, we must consider the population as a whole. After all, while the LGBT community is interested in broad themes like “acceptance,” “equality” and “human rights,” it is composed of differing situations and interests.
Consider, the “T” is almost tacked on to the end of the acronym, or smashed in the forgotten middle. This is perfectly representative of the situation in which the transgendered community now finds itself. While the LGB population is primarily concerned with matters regarding sexual orientation, people who are transgendered face problems and obstacles that are wholly distinct. For example, providing transgender youth the educational support they need is a unique challenge.
The lumping together of the “L”, the “G,” the “B” and the “T” only further conflates gender identity and sexual orientation. This conflation can marginalize the transgender community, making its needs and demands seem either nonexistent or “made up.” Indeed, I would argue when we hear “LGBT,” we think “Will and Grace,” not young teens struggling to discover why they feel they are born into the wrong body.
Let us even consider the Allies – but not the World War II kind. While I would consider myself an “Ally,” I don’t know what it is like to be a person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This prompts us to closely inspect why
we group this community together.
Are we simply interested in the aims of the population? – In this sense, Allies can lend their voices (and yes, voting power) as support. However, if we are instead focusing on the individual experience of being oppressed, Allies’ contribution to this conversation and relationship is reduced to empathy. Given this, should this group even be in the acronym?
While there are complications with this well-known acronym, there are complications that will arise if it is abandoned. Let us say the transgender population gathers its own steam. According to a May 2009 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, it is estimated between 0.25 and 1 percent of people are transgendered. It might simply be a logistical reality that people who are transgender do not “have the numbers” to enact any change on their behalf. Also, if “Allies” are not included in the acronym, where exactly do they fit within the context of the LGBT community?
I think the broadest solution to these conundrums is to begin having conversations about the LGBT label and its implications. This is absolutely preferable to simply accepting it as the calling card for a homogenous group interested in ostensibly quixotic values. In this way, we can turn great intentions into full understanding and even tangible action.
The “Let’s Make It Better Now” video contest is a wonderful campaign for acceptance. Along with these campaigns, we fundamentally need to realize people and their needs are hidden in the acronym.