You might have noticed that we've been using an unusual acronym...

29th August 2017
LGBT: What’s in a word (or an acronym)?

Since we launched the Open Church Network last month a few people have asked about the acronym we’ve used to talk about people who are lesbian, gay and transgender.  Rather than the traditional LGBT+ we’ve been talking about LGB+T.

On the face of it, it seems like a typo.  But there is a method to our madness.

Just as a recap, LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.  The ‘+’sign in the conventional acronym is a nod toward anything else that might be associated.  We’re using the ‘+’ differently – as a subtle way of saying that we think the conversation around same-sex relationships and the discussion about gender identity are discreet and distinct, despite the fact that they are often complementary.

Language evolves.  In one sense, letters and words are just that and nothing more.  But most of us have probably experienced in life how they can often portray deeper realities – inner thoughts, political perspectives and even life philosophies.

People are people.  Individuals have individual characteristics, bespoke sexualities and their own, often non-binary understanding of their gender.  Any attempt to group people into categories will always be imperfect.  Nonetheless it’s often necessary.  We get that – and we’re certainly not making our slight tweak in order to be critical.  But for a while, we’ve been a bit worried about how people who consider themselves ‘transgender’ can be accidently dismissed as an afterthought when the ‘T’ is casually lumped together with three letters that represent different and distinct issues.

Recently, our sister organisation, the Oasis Foundation published a report illustrating how much damage church teaching on same-sex relationships had caused increased levels of mental health among people who are LGB.  The report was criticised by some for dropping the ‘T’ from the acronym.  We felt that that criticism was short sighted.  The report was about same-sex relationships – something that many trans people do not wish to be in, although of course some do.

And there’s also a danger that the increasing drive towards a comprehensive definition, particularly where LGBT+ is expanded to the more fully inclusive LGBTQI+ (for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex) can simply risk creating a box marked ‘other’.  There is a risk that it could be interpreted as a suggestion that heterosexual, gender-typical is the norm or even ‘gold standard’ of human existence and that everything that differs from this mainstream barometer should all be lumped together in one comprehensive definition of ‘otherness’.

We totally appreciate that issues of exclusion, marginalisation and oppression are likely to be commonly felt by those that identify with any of the letters above.  When it comes to Christianity, a feeling of church exclusion and the damage that can cause is highly likely to be the shared experience of each.

Nonetheless, we wanted to make an attempt – how ever minimal – to say that gender issues are not simply a tag on to the debate and dialogue around same-sex relationships.  That’s why we’ve landed at switching the ‘+’ to before the ‘T’.  It’s our way of saying, “Yes, we recognise that there are common issues and that sheer practicality means we need, for instance, to discuss both in the same part of our website.  But we do believe there are distinct conversations to be had about same-sex relationships and about gender identity. The two are fundamentally different questions of human identity”.  Making this change is our small way of saying that they shouldn’t all be lumped together, even though at times we’ll be in danger of doing that. It’s something we all need to be continually mindful of.

What do you think?  Are we missing the wood for the trees?  We’re certainly not set in our ways about it and we would very much welcome feedback.  Feel free to post any thoughts in the comments section below.  

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