What does the A stand for?

The A (or whether there should be one) in LGBT stands for seems to be a regular debate that can be seen on Tumblr. This has been an issue on which I normally just shrug and go “who cares?” though I do consider it to be an issue I think it also highlights an issue with the terms that are being used, and whether LGBT has become a hindrance with more and more letters being tagged on. Though this has the issue of a what alternative is there and is it any better?

LGBT (or in the Australian context, not uncommonly LGBTI in media) has the advantage that it it is well known and it’s letters aid in education. Most people could tell you what each one stands for and give you a brief description of what each terms even if not well understood. This has the advantage of it is well known and it educates people by it’s own existence. However it does have the downside that it doesn’t cover everything, one way around this is to try to put more things under a single label within the acronym. An example being from BeyondBlue who disclose that they use Trans* as an umbrella term for various gender and sex expressions. This has the advantage of avoiding any more additions to the acronym.

But how does LGBT address the addition of those who don’t fit under an existing letter? This has two answers:

1. Don’t add them

2. Add a new letter

The problem is how do you measure or justify if a new letter should be added? The first option risks erasing that group and preventing a strong and simple method of visibility and education. Whilst the second option then requires what letter to use and could see it become too cumbersome and nobody adopting the new additions. Also what else is included under that letter. The fact that letters keep being added in many cases to the point that some people refer to the term as alphabet soup shows that there is an issue. The term can be too inclusive and end up unintentionally erasing people through its intention to be including to everybody and any additions are considered irrelevant and the term is shortened anyway.

So what are the alternatives?

The most common term is GSRM (Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities) though sometimes the R is dropped or letters rearranged. This term has its advantages in that it is reasonably clear (though still open) in its interpretation and gives a reasonable indication of who it aims to include under it. This prevents the need to add more letters to it, as each letter cover almost everything as an umbrella term, however it is so broad that it would require breaking down to into letters and then sub-categories under them. To many people it will be seen as a bunch of letters for a special group (for lack of a better term at the moment), this loses the biggest advantage of LGBT in that the same ease of self-educating isn’t there and it is easier to dismiss as the terms aren’t indirectly learnt.

So is one better?

This would depend on the context of the debate and how broad you want the term to be. If you want to improve visibility the advantage is with LGBT but it lack the same degree of flexibility and has the potential to create erasure through lack of inclusion. GSRM is more inclusive however lacks the ability for people to learn the terms as easily thus being easier to dismiss the term or have groups within it overlooked. Ultimately I think the advantage lies with LGBT, though a rethink of how letters are used on it needs to be done in the online communities to prevent it becoming too cumbersome. Within the mainstream however letter additions are going to be determined by major organisations and the media, which will depend on the people that campaign for the inclusion of the new letters.

And the answer to the title?

The debate on tumblr usually is a debate of whether the A stands for asexual or allies. I honestly cannot see why allies needs to be included, yes there is a need to acknowledge them but it doesn’t serve the purpose of the acronym to have them in there and in fact can undermine it’s power. If an A is added it should stand for asexual and likely will also include many of the grey-spectrum areas.

However until the debate settles and there is less additions to the term I’m still going to be thinking “Who cares, the term is having its strength removed, at least with GSRM we wouldn’t be having this ridiculous debate”


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