As Vancouver prepares to commemorate 2018 as Year of the Queer, opinions are mixed about using the reclaimed slur to encompass a rainbow of sexualities.
And while it may be easier than calling this the Year of the LGBTQIA2S+, the debate also suggests that acronyms have not outlived their usefulness.
“The word queer, it was almost a disgusting word,” says Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson, 73, who came out nearly six decades ago.
“I fought against it — ‘There’s nothing queer about us!’ But over time, as generations have come into the gay rights movement, a lot of people have reclaimed this and use it in a positive way, so I too have made a change in how I view the word.”
In March, Stevenson was approached by organizers of anniverary celebrations for 15 local arts, cultural, health and community organizations that do important work on behalf of Vancouver’s LGBTQ2+ community.
Vancouver Pride Society’s Andrea Arnot, frank theatre company’s Fay Nass, Out on Screen’s Stephanie Goodwin and Pride in Art’s SD Holman came up with the name “Year of the Queer.”
However, former councillor Ellen Woodsworth, who with Stevenson spearheaded the Vancouver’s first Stonewall celebration — named after the riots that took place in New York City in 1979 considered by many as the first demonstration of pride — says there’s a reason that the acronym LGBTQIA2S+ continues to expand. She says that while queer is a great “catch-all,” the term shouldn’t be used in lieu of the different groupings within the community..
“I fought against the word gay,” says Woodsworth. “There are different issues for gay men than there are for lesbian women — childcare, pay equity, healthcare — and the same should be recognized with the transgender and Two-Spirited communities.”
The BC Teachers’ Federation recommends the resource The Gender Spectrum: What educators need to know when teaching students grades K-12 sexual education. In the book’s glossary, queer is defined as:
“A term becoming more widely used among LGBT communities because of its inclusiveness. ‘Queer’ can be used to refer to the range of non-heterosexual and non-cisgendered people and provides a convenient shorthand for ‘LGBT.’ It is important to note that this is a reclaimed term that was once and is still used as a hate term, and thus some people feel uncomfortable with it.”
For Osmel B. Guerra Maynes, “queer” is a term that can be used by anyone, although differing intentions still exist.
“You put power to words. I see it as accepting a word that made us feel like lesser beings saying ‘This is not a word you can use anymore to say that we’re worthless and mean nothing. We’re taking it back and sharing it,’” says Maynes, the executive director of QUMUNITY, B.C.’s resource centre for queer, trans and Two-Spirited people.
He feels the same about racial terms.
“It’s the context behind it,” says Maynes who as a black Latino man never uses the n-word. “For me that’s just a word you don’t use.”
On Tumblr there was a discussion among users who called themselves officialqueer, violet-lesbian, and robotbisexual. Their differing opinions demonstrate how personal definitions of the term can vary widely within the community it’s meant to address.
While the asexual panromantic argues the word tells people all they need to know “I’m not straight,” the lesbian user says she’s tired of people including her in a word she considers a slur. A bisexual user responded with the argument that “gay” was also a term reclaimed after a dark history, and cautioned readers against dubbing someone’s identity as a slur.
“There are a lot of divisions within the LGBTQ+ world. Queer is the only word that not only demands equal acceptance for everyone, but leaves the door open for words and descriptors that haven’t even been invented yet.”
The official declaration of “Year of the Queer” is May 23. It begins with a panel discussion at City Hall, followed by a celebration on Helena Gutteridge Plaza. Pride, trans and Two-Spirited flags will be raised on Cambie and 12th from then until Aug. 19.