Disagreement about the word ‘queer’ sparks viral debate

A recent letter on the use of the word 'queer' has sparked a viral debate over its connotations.

Pride protestors holding signs as debate over the word ‘queer’ goes viral.
Image: Twitter @jd_kelleher

Many LGBTQ+ individuals have strong feelings about the debate over the word queer. For many, queer is a term of radical acceptance and Pride, but for others, the word still exists as a slur carrying harmful connotations.

The word was likely first used to identify LGBTQ+ people in 1895 when Irish writer Oscar Wilde was being tried for homosexuality. Its usage gradually increased over time, and by the early 1910s, the word ‘queer’ became a widely used derogatory slur against gay people.

The term was reclaimed by many LGBTQ+ individuals as early as 1930, and more widely circulated in the 1980s and 1990s when activist groups began using the famous “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” anthem during Pride marches and events.

In more recent years, younger LGBTQ+ generations have adopted the term as an inclusive, umbrella term representing all LGBTQ+ identities. For many, queer is an identity that differentiates us from mainstream cis-heteronormativity and recognises all non-heterosexual identities.

Queer has also entered mainstream culture with shows like Queer Eye gaining international recognition, and it’s common to see banners, badges, and clothing proudly highlighting the word as a way to increase LGBTQ+ visibility.

In a letter published in The Guardian earlier this month, 66-year-old openly gay Brighton resident, Karl Lockwood, criticised the use of the word ‘queer’ saying, “I suspect that many of the others, like me, consider the term to be insulting… and certainly not ‘reclaimed”.

His words sparked discussions around the appropriateness of the term and opened a viral debate in recent days, with LGBTQ+ voices weighing in on Twitter.

It’s important to recognise this history of the word queer and why it’s up for debate. While it can certainly mean different things to different people, it’s not a recent trend that was adopted lightly. LGBTQ+ people have been proudly self-identifying as ‘queer’ well before the 1980s.

Ultimately, everyone gets to decide which terms to use when describing their LGBTQ+ identities. It’s always best practice to ask people in the LGBTQ+ community what labels and pronouns they use before you label anyone with a particular identity.

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