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What does the "Q" in LGBTQ really mean?      By:Molly Snyder

Molly Snyder  

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When most people see the acronym "LGBTQ" they are fairly certain what the first four letters stand for. "L," of course, stands for "lesbian;" "G" is for gay; "B" stands for "bisexual" and "T" means "transgender." But the "Q," which represents the word "queer," is harder to define.


So what exactly does it mean to be "queer?"


"Personally, I think 'queer' encompasses ALL in the community, whereas 'gay' is primarily used for only the homosexual male segment of the community," says Kate Sherry, the editor of Queer Life News. "However, there some of us who do identify strictly as 'queer' instead of 'lesbian' or 'trans,' etc."


Originally, the word "queer" meant unusual or strange, and later, it became a derogatory term for someone who is gay. At the end of the 20th century, members of the gay community reclaimed the word and in doing so, recycled the meaning once again, this time with the goal of empowerment.


The "grayness" of the word is part of its power because it breaks down the ability to label and categorize lifestyles that unfairly generate hate and oppression. Activists, people who strongly reject traditional gender or sexual identities, or anyone who feel oppressed by the pressure to conform to the heterosexual lifestyle often use the word.


According to Bill Serpe, the executive director of Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE), "queer" is a catchall word for anyone who is outside the societal norm, not just those who identify themselves as part of the gay community.


"Someone is queer when they have realized that they are not straight, heterosexual or born in the wrong body. Not all people who might fall in this category like being called queer, but would agree that they are living a lifestyle that is different from what is considered the social norm," says Serpe.


So, can a straight person be queer? Sure. For some, the "Q" stands for "questioning," which includes people living the straight lifestyle but questioning their sexuality, someone who isn't sexual at all because they are unsure of their identity or a person who is sexual, but doesn't fit into any particular box.


"Anyone who feels they don't or can't conform to a hetero-normative society are eligible for queer status!" says Sherry.


Damon (last name withheld) describes himself as queer. He says -- if forced to label -- he is "bisexual and open to anything," and definitely a person who lives outside conventional, mainstream relationships.


"There really isn't a word to describe my sexual identity, so queer works because it's an all-encompassing word … It's a confusing word, which is good. Because we must have labels, I can say 'I'm queer' and be done with it," he says.


In 2003, Milo Miller co-founded the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP), a free on-line database that preserves queer publications and makes them readily available to the masses.


The mission of the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) is to create an archive of queer 'zines and to encourage people to continue writing from the queer perspective.


"In curating such a unique aspect of culture, we value a collectivist approach that respects the diversity of experiences that fall under the heading 'queer,'" reads the QZAP Web site.


Miller says he and his partner have about 800 zines, most of which are queer.


"Flipping through them, we realized that the content has merit for all sorts of people," says Miller.