A Different Angle: a random collection of essays and observations, mostly about lesbian/gay/bi issues.
© Todd VerBeek, Radio Zero(tm)
This essay originally appeared in the November 1990 issue of Network News, the newsletter of the Lesbian & Gay Community Network of Western Michigan

The l-word, or the L-word?

As part of my involvement on the Pride Committee of the Network, I got to attend a conference of Pride Coordinators a few weeks ago in Minneapolis... or at least most of it. In order to catch a flight back home so that I could be at work the next day, we had to leave before the final session was over, which meant that we also missed an intriguing discussion.

The materials we had gave enough information about it to get me thinking, however. The subject was the discussion of the words "gay" and "lesbian" as used in reference to members of our community, and the proposal was that they were lacking.

"Oh no!" I thought. "I've been preaching to people for all these years to say `gay' and `lesbian', and now I'm going to have to start all over with a new set of terms?" I was afraid that the mainstream community was going to get as annoyed with our community over terminology as many of them are with the Negro/Black/African-American community over what they should be called.

I was relieved that their proposal wasn't so Earth-shattering after all: simply to change the first letter of each word... to uppercase. While I'm not about to get up on a soapbox or quit my job to campaign for this idea, the arguments for it are worth listening to.

Take a look up a couple paragraphs where I listed the names applied to a racial minority. Each of those terms is (or was) commonly capitalized. So are other ethnic or racial terms, like Native American, Arab, or Hispanic. Religious and cultural terms such as Jewish, Christian, Taoism, and Suni Moslem are also capitalized. Why shouldn't members of our community be identified as "Gay" instead of just "gay"?

The argument for capitalizing "lesbian" has even more weight behind it. After all, the word refers to the island of Lesbos, and we always capitalize place names. If we capitalize "Hawaiian", doesn't it make sense to do the same with "Lesbian"? Should we be attempting to enhance our sense of self-esteem and of community by putting a big, proud capital letter on the front?

The objective of the discussion at the conference was to decide whether the International Association of Lesbian/Gay Pride Coordinators would make an official policy of capitalizing "Lesbian" and "Gay". Since we had to leave early, I don't know yet what they decided.

But the more I think about it, the less I care which they decided was "correct". The whole point behind using "G/gay" and "L/lesbian" was that they were terms that we chose to call ourselves. Why not extend some of that choice to the individual?

For example, I prefer "gay" because its easier to type. You may prefer "Lesbian" because it's more geographically accurate, or "Gay" because you like the way the big round letter looks at the front of the word.

But whatever set of letters we use, let's use them because they work for each of us.

mail Comments?
home To the Different Angle main menu