Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Use of word “queer” growing in LGBT news reporting

by Joe Siegel

A recent editorial in Denver’s OutFront magazine has reignited the debate over what word, words or acronym to describe the LGBT community.

Ryan Howe, editor of Colorado magazine, explained in a recent column why the publication started using the word “queer,” which was formerly seen as pejorative.

“For us, ‘queer’ is used as an umbrella term for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ or something other than the heteronormative worldview that promotes heterosexuality as the norm,” Howe wrote. “Being queer means that people are accepted for being themselves. They are celebrated for living authentically to how they want to live and not letting social norms dictate how they navigate our world.” 

This is a historical shift. As Jake Hall of Dazed Digital.com wrote: “American newspapers used ‘queer’ as a derogatory term, using it to highlight the fact that homosexuality was strange and abnormal. 

Interestingly, it was most frequently used to specifically attack effeminate gay men.” Hall explained that the word was “later reclaimed in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and quickly became a symbol of anarchy.”

But according to the Critical Media Project, based at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, the word can also be used “to underscore the fact that gender and sexual orientation are fluid and should not be rigidly categorized. Echoing this sentiment about fluidity, the ‘Q’ in LGBTQ further can indicate a ‘questioning’ or uncertainty about one’s gender, sexuality, or sexual orientation.” 

Although not everyone is happy with the word, LGBT publications have increasingly used the word in their reporting.

“Some people, especially older, don’t like its use, but more people understand that many do like it and seem more accepting of it these days,” said Tracy Baim, editor for the Windy City Times in Chicago.

“We use the word ‘queer’ pretty regularly — in stories and headlines,” said Cynthia Laird, news editor for the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco. “If someone identifies as queer we go with that. This has been the case for years, although I couldn’t pinpoint when it started. We would talk to people for stories and more seemed to identify as queer — even older people, so we started using it. Before that, we’d use ‘queer’ mostly in stories about queer youth, because that was how they were identifying.”

The Bay Area Reporter also uses LGBT and LGBTQ. “We do not use GLBT unless it is the name of an organization, like our GLBT Historical Society, or someone says it in a direct quote,” Laird noted. “If someone writes GLBT, say in a letter to the editor, I change it to LGBT to be consistent with our style.”

“Some people identify as queer and use the word with intention,” said Troy Masters, editor of the Los Angeles Blade. “If a writer uses it, we let it stand but rarely use it in original reporting unless a subject identifies as queer.”

“South Florida Gay News and The Mirror will use the word ‘queer’ when appropriate, or if it’s the name of something — like ‘Queer as Folk’ or ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ — or if its in a quote from a source,” said editor Jason Parsley.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) describes “queer” as “an adjective used by some people, particularly younger people, whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual (e.g., queer person, queer woman). Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel don't apply to them. Some people may use queer, or more commonly genderqueer, to describe their gender identity and/or gender expression.”

GLAAD notes that the term “gay community” should be “avoided, as it does not accurately reflect the diversity of the community. Rather, LGBTQ community is preferred.”

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