Like a lot of historical wrong turns, LGBTQ means well. As gay people fought the stereotype of brokenness, homosexual came to be seen as clinical and pathologizing. Gay, by contrast, had a long linguistic history and no pseudoscientific baggage. In Kameny’s heyday and my youth, that seemed just fine. But the male and female homosexual populations differed in some ways, and so gay became gendered to complement lesbian. By the early 1990s, when some of us founded a group for homosexual journalists, we didn’t think twice about calling it the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
Meanwhile, as recognition grew that trans people faced discrimination and ignorance comparable to what homosexuals endured, the addition of T made gradual inroads. By 2007, when gay-rights advocates decided to make their support for a federal antidiscrimination bill conditional on the inclusion of protections for transgender people, it was clear that the gay-and-lesbian and trans movements had become politically joined at the hip; including the T made undeniable sense. Bisexual people, concerned that their issues would be overlooked, also sought acknowledgment, and their initial was stapled in too.
And so the unwieldy four-letter acronym reigned. It had its advantages. It signaled factional inclusion to those inside the movement, and factional solidarity to those outside the movement. In that sense, it was good politics and good symbolism. But it wasn’t stable. Factionalism rarely is. As activists and theorists sought to cover every base, they recognized asexuality and intersexuality and various other identities by coining LGBTQIAA+, LGBTTIQQ2SA, and other telescoping designations. Lately LGBTQ seems to have become the norm, on the assumption that Q, for queer, can stand in for all the rest.