Why We Use “queer”
Over our 23 year history, Outright Vermont has intentionally explored and then embraced the use of the word “queer” as a term used by our youth population. We routinely are challenged on our use of this word and therefore find it important to provide the curious with the context of why we not only use, but celebrate, the word queer:
WHY WE USE THE WORD “QUEER”
Outright Vermont is an organization that proudly embraces the word “queer” and has a youth population that frequently self-identifies with this word. We use “queer” when referring to our events, in our mission, and when we are collectively referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, and queer (LGBTIQQ) community. Despite our frequent use, we often are asked about our use of the word “queer.”
There is no doubt that the word “queer” has a complex history, that includes derogatory use by bullies and people who intend harm. “Queer” also has a long history as a term of re-empowerment by the LGBTQ community, as a unifying term that recognizes that many complex identities that make up the LGBTIQQ (and many other identities) community. In fact, over the last thirty years, “queer” has emerged in academia, politics, and even popular culture as a term of identity, inclusion, and more and more positive use.
As a youth-driven and youth empowerment organization, Outright Vermont stands by our many youth constituents who intentionally self-identify as “queer.” Our youth engage this word as a means of pride and of inclusion of multiple complex identities including sexual orientation, gender identity, physical body identity and more. For well over the last twenty years, Outright Vermont has embraced these new uses and associations for the word “queer” and has diligently worked to educate and create a discourse within the LGBTQ community and beyond around the use of the word.
We recognize and honor that the word queer is still very hurtful for some members of the LGBTQ community and that that will always be the case for them. Yet, we see everyday how this word and identity continues to become less wounding and more empowering as young people fiercely and proudly reclaim it. In fact, not to proudly use “queer” as an organization would be disempowering for many Outright youth.
As an organization that actively words to undo racism in Vermont, it is also important for us to address how some people attempt to draw connections between the use of the word “queer” and the “N-word.” Yes, both the word “queer” and the “N-word” are strategically used by members of the communities which these words were originally intended to harm, as a means to take that power back. However, there are significant differences between the histories of these words in relation to the communities that they were once and still are used against. People of color communities continue to explore and internally discuss how the “N-word” is used by individuals and their community as a whole. The history of the “N-word” has not panned out the same way that the history of “queer” has in its use, therefore it is irresponsible to make an “apples to apples comparison” when trying to explain the appropriate use of “re-empowered terms.” We hope that everyone understands that this piece of the conversation is much more complex than we can address in a post on our website and that simply put, the “N-word” is never appropriate for a white person to use, in any context.
Outright Vermont supports the use of the word “queer” by those who understand its meaning, history, and proper use. It is never okay to use it to intend harm or hurt. In the context of the work we do, the space we provide, and the complex identities that the youth we work with hold, the use of the word “queer” and the opportunity to provide education and understanding around the word’s history and current use is part of our mission.
We hope that helps provide some context on our use of the word queer. Any of our staff welcome the chance to converse more about this in person or on the phone – email can be too limiting – visit our staff page for info.