The Complexities of Inclusive Language


Words matter. Anyone who has ever been bullied or threatened or shamed into silence because they happened to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can attest to that.

It is precisely because words matter that we have a responsibility to choose ours very, very carefully. As a community, we sometimes grumble about the complexities of inclusive language – such as the addition of transgender, queer, questioning and intersex to our already lengthy LGBT acronym. We also chafe at the idea that some communities of color opt-out of the label “gay” entirely, preferring instead to use terms like SGL (“same gender loving”), GenderQueer, or others.

These are not easy internal conversations for our community. As large segments of the us become more and more integrated into the mainstream, the idea of accommodating sub-groups that might jeopardize that integration can feel counterproductive.

That, of course, is precisely the point. When we were all outcasts – when mainstream society lumped us all together as “freaks” and “perverts” – it was clearer that we were all fighting for the same goal; the right to live, and love, as we choose. Now that some of us are closer to achieving that goal, those among us who push the boundaries of gender and orientation stand out that much more. They become magnets for abuse that, in truth, is intended for our entire community.

Those of us who more easily blend into the mainstream have a responsibility to those who cannot choose when and where to be visible. We owe them the mantle of community, and the respect of inclusion.

We cannot fight for equality without acknowledging that each of us is equally entitled to living our own, authentic life. Our responsibility to ourselves, and to our community, is to ensure that none of us is left behind along the way. Inclusive language is a non-negotiable first step towards that end.

Photo Credit: sigmaration

About The Author

Leyla Farah combines media and technology expertise with deep roots in SaaS technologies, cloud computing, data mining, marketing analytics and media strategy. She manages enterprise client accounts for Eloqua, a cloud-based communications platform powered by Oracle. Leyla is the author of the book “Black, Gifted and Gay,” and was one of the original employees of PlanetOut Inc. She has served on the national Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign, and as a volunteer with numerous LGBT arts and policy organizations around the country. Leyla holds a JD from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley.

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