Back to Basics | Understanding LGBT+ Terminology in Celebration of IDAHOTB
To commemorate IDAHOTB (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia - 17 May 2020) and LGBT+ Pride Month in June, Community Business has collated an LGBT+ Dictionary to help our supporters and allies understand and use people’s correct terminology respectfully and confidently. Self-identification and pride are powerful tools and we want to encourage our community to equip themselves with the vocabulary to celebrate and support each other. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing a selection of terms related to and describing the LGBT+ community – some of these might be old friends and well-known, while others may be more recently coined or new to your parlance - the team at Community Business have certainly enjoyed arming ourselves with this robust dictionary and brushing up on our technical knowledge. We built our glossary by referencing the Fenway Institute LGBT+ Glossary, as well as the University of Massachusetts Amherst - Stonewall Center LGBTQIA+ Terminology Handout. Our campaign is peppered with the rare Hong Kong Pink Dolphin – unique in colour and a symbol of hope for the future. In each graphic, our chosen mascot plays with a ball that incorporates the relevant pride flag – so even if the terminology is familiar to you, perhaps you’ll learn something new about its visual identity.
How one identifies is a personal and evolving concept. Adrienne Davis, our LGBT+ Programme Manager, has shared their thoughts on their own evolving identity to give our project some context and Peter Sargant, our CEO has commented on why understanding this terminology is important for workplace inclusion. At Community Business, we support all members of the community in their right to discern their sexual and gender identities. As an organisation, we have chosen to encompass the evolving nature of LGBT+ identities with '+' rather than letters that have not yet been solidly agreed upon across borders, cultures and communities. The emergence of new LGBT+ voices and perspectives is exciting and we are keen to support organisations and individuals as they strive to let these flourish internally and grow on their LGBT+ inclusion journey.
There is no right way or time to name and label yourself.
In the LGBT+ community and especially when we were first working towards inclusion and understanding within (western) society, the prevailing story was that the majority of us knew that we were “different” from a young age. We’ve all heard the story of the young man who wanted to be a cheerleader, or the girl who insisted on cutting her hair and hating wearing dresses. Often the story goes that it was only in reaching puberty that we realised we were gay or queer, found the words to describe our feelings, and began to understand what these terms and identities meant.
When I was growing up, LGBT+ representation in the media was rare and when LGBT+ people were visible, they were often featured in a negative fashion or small, tantalising snippets. At the risk of dating myself, the first time I remember seeing a woman loving women (WLW) in media was in t.A.T.u.’s All the Things She Said music video when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. Even though this music video made me feel shy and embarrassed to watch in a way that I didn’t have the words for yet, I didn’t identify that feeling with being queer for at least another 5 years, until a high school friend came out.
In my early teen and high school years, I thought I was straight. Then I thought I was gay. Then I was sure I was bi-sexual. I knew I was a woman - until I didn’t know anymore. Eventually, I settled on queer for a while but that didn’t quite fit in the way I wanted it too either, like a sweater that’s a few sizes too big and hangs low on your wrists and off your shoulders: you can wear it, but it’s not quite right for your body.
Identities can seem at times like clothes or perhaps better like tattoos that adorn your body. They don’t fundamentally change you, but they may help explain who you are. When I was at university, a professor told me that nobody can teach you how to be a person. Everyone starts at the same place and there are certain lessons that you can only learn from experiencing them - no amount of foreknowledge or warning can make them any easier.
Now, when asked how I identify I will often say that I’m a lesbian and leave it at that, even though that’s not the whole story. Sometimes I don’t want to give more details or I don’t want to feel like a walking dictionary. Calling myself a lesbian acts as a conversational full stop- prying follow up questions don’t come, regardless of well-meaning curiosity.
As a result, many people will assume that this must be the only version of me, or that like many well-worn “coming out” stories, I must’ve known from a young age about my attraction to women and have never strayed far from that, or at the very least no longer than a brief escapade. This is not the case. I have loved and been attracted to people of many genders but now that attraction is to women, and I don’t really expect that to change. There’s danger, however, and a limitation found in the prevalence of the single story, in the idea that one’s gender or sexuality must be fixed, innate and discovered at puberty or even younger.
Today, I say lesbian when I don’t want to explain why queer is more accurate for me than pan-sexual or bi-sexual or to give the (correct) impression that I’m not particularly interested in men. My gender identity is evolving but I still most often describe myself as a woman, even though “they/them” pronouns feel more accurate today - to be honest, I still haven’t figured where I land on that one but I take pride in my journey and am enjoying the process of uncovering more about myself along the way. For me, identities can help acquaintances understand me a little bit better. The danger, however, comes when those labels become limiting, rather than uplifting. My identities (historical, shifting and present) are mine alone. I get to decide when, if and how to describe myself based on my own safety, my comfort with being emotionally vulnerable in a situation and any number of other factors.
A Message from our CEO, Peter Sargant
Language can be an incredibly powerful tool. It gives colourful detail about a person and is often a key to deeper understanding. When it comes to diversity, however, language can sometimes become a barrier to inclusion. Fear of using the wrong word or term can be frightening, leading people to step back and avoid participating in inclusive discussion, although they are keen to do so. There is a fine line between genuine curiosity and respecting people’s privacy. At Community Business, we strive to give people the tools to have bold and inclusive conversations, with the baseline information to elevate the discussion and turn that conversation into action.
We’ve spent the last few weeks and months talking to each other differently, from our homes instead of our offices and through our computer and phone instead of face to face. Whether we know it or not, we’re using language more and using it differently. I suspect we’re being a little more thoughtful, intentional and I hope a little more compassionate and empathetic. While we obviously shouldn’t become hung up labels - and we shouldn’t make knowing, understanding and using the correct term or (in the case of LGBT+) the right letter, an entry qualifier to discussion - there’s huge value in all of us properly understanding what the right language is and what it means, out of respect for the individual and for peoples’ own difference.
If we do nothing else this IDAHOTB, then we owe it to ourselves and to those we connect with, to understand their preferred language and to recognise and embrace the difference that exists within our own workforce, whether we know it or not. We wish you all a happy and safe IDAHOTB from everyone here at Community Business.