What The "Q" In LGBTQ+ Stands For

Most people can agree with the L, G, B, and T in the acronym LGBTQ+ stand for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. But when it comes to the Q, it gets a little more complicated. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the Q stands for queer. But according to Planned Parenthood, the Q stands for “questioning (or queer).” For PFlag and The Trevor Project, the Q stands for both, equally.

Well, yes, ‘gay’ is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we’ve chosen to call ourselves queer. Using ‘queer’ is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world. It’s a way of telling ourselves we don’t have to be witty and charming people who keep our lives discreet and marginalized in the straight world… Yeah, QUEER can be a rough word but it is also a sly and ironic weapon we can steal from the homophobe’s hands and use against him.
— Queer Nation, 1990 leaflet

Even style guides don’t agree. The Associated Press Style Guide notes that the Q stands for “questioning and/or queer,” but the Los Angeles Times’ style guide notes that the Q “most commonly means ‘queer,’ but can also mean ‘questioning.” Similarly, GLAAD’s media glossary notes that the Q “typically means queer and, less often, questioning.”

Though activists have been using the acronyms “LGBTQ” and “LGBTQ+” for much longer, the Q has only come into mainstream use in the past few years. HRC officially began using "LGBTQ" across their work in 2016, though they had been using it in youth programs earlier. In 2016, GLAAD issued an announcement, “for the first time, encourag[ing] journalists and other media content creators to adopt the use of ‘LGBTQ’ as the preferred acronym to most inclusively describe the community.” One year later, the Associated Press changed its style guide to allow either “LGBT” or “LGBTQ.”

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