Wednesday, 8 April 2009


One of the fine cliches of comparing life in Great Britain and the USA is that they are 'two nations divided by a common tongue'. I'm not going to get into a "how should Leicester be pronounced" thread here, but one of the differences between the two is that over there the common acronym for our communities is GLBT, whilst over here it's LGBT.

The American model kind of makes sense as a historic series of expansions. As the range of identities seen as core to our movement fragmented and acquired respect, Gay became Gay and Lesbian became GLB became GLBT.

The British one however has a peculiar hiccup. Gay became Lesbian and Gay, with the women put in front since within L&G spaces they tended to be marginalised and the minority, despite the hypothesis that there should be more lesbians than gay men in a country where the census records more women than men.

So you're putting the more marginalised group in the front of the acronym to avoid them getting dropped off, and people lapsing into talking about "gay" when meaning "lesbian and gay".

Then, just as across the pond, we add in the B and the T.

Only we add them at the end. The "you need to worry less about making sure you include these bits, people will just imply them" end. B got in there first so it's LGBT.

Which doesn't really make sense for two strands of the LGBT rainbow that have less visibility, credibility, accessible community, money, and so forth, than the lesbian strand. B and T folks clearly belong at the front.

Whether following the British logic it should be BTLG or TBLG could no doubt be a long and heated debate: I can see arguments in both directions though for me the fewer support groups and social spaces for B give it the edge.

By now we've been talking about LGBT for so long that the battle of which order the letters should flow in is long since over, but whenever people um and ah about going for the UK or USA ordering, I'd suggest you put the four letters in a Scrabble bag and pull them out one by one to decide.


  1. It would be SO much easier if everyone was happy with the term 'queer'. I can see how post-op transpersons might want to be represented as just physio/neurotypical str8 people (and transpersons who identity as les/bi/gay go into those 'categories'), thereby any support group to which they belong would not happily fall within the 'queer' bracket... However, until we are embracing pomosexuality whereby there is no need for labels, people are just people fancying, loving, marrying and/or procreating with whomever they choose, I think a safer catch-all would be the use of 'queer'.

    Or maybe there is a better word out there without the semantic problems of being associated with 'weirdness'...

  2. In the time I've been doing LGBT stuff, there have been at least three clear, distinct definitions of 'queer' from the LGBT* community / reclaiming of language perspective. As at least two of those phases of reclaiming the word were exclusive, defining parts of LGBT as outside the gang, I figure it's been tarnished too far for it to replace LGBT.

  3. GLBT is the easiest to pronounce because of the sequence of the letters.

  4. @ Queers United:

    See, I don't find that. I suspect it's a matter of habit, the combination you say all the time becomes the easy one to pronounce.

  5. My roommate and I just got into an argument on which is correct. It is all just a matter of habit, and I often times just say queer, but some people, like my roommate who grew up in a more conservative part of the country, are not comfortable with that. I think the best thing to do is just recognize that, if you are a member of this community, it shouldn't matter if your group is exclusively referred to, you're a part of a community that is here to support you.

  6. Needs a vowel or two to make it an acronym

  7. @ WDB that would be lovely - alas there have been a host of e.g. lesbian and gay groups that have expelled members for being bisexual, and cases of gendered bi groups expelling trans members.

    Hence some of us have learned not to take inclusion for granted.