The Sexist

Ladies First: Does D.C. Have a GLBT Community or an LGBT One?

Metro Weekly
Metro Weekly co-publishers Randy Shulman and Sean Bugg

This year, the DC Center—the sole community center serving the District’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents—will no longer be known as a “GLBT” community center. It will be known as a center for the “LGBT” community. It’s a simple transposition of two letters, but it offers a glimpse into the complicated gender politics of the people the DC Center serves.

GLBT—an acronym which stands for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender”—was coined in the 1990s to reflect the widening umbrella of identities represented by what was originally referred to simply as the “gay community.” But when the title expanded to include additional marginalized identities, few agreed on who should come first. “There have always been fights in the community over acronyms, which letters to include, and what order they ought to be in,” says Sean Bugg, co-publisher of District LGBT—or GLBT, depending on who you ask—magazine Metro Weekly. “You sometimes wish there was a board saying, ‘This is what it’s going to be now.’”

Recently, several local institutions have arrived at some consensus: LGBT is in. And GLBT is, ahem, out.

Why the concern over the placement of a couple of letters? David Mariner, Executive Director of the DC Center, says that his organization’s acronym switch-up is “not a big deal either way,” but that the Center made the change “to be consistent with the other national organizations we are affiliated with.” CenterLink, which serves as a hub for “LGBT Community Centers Around the World,” favors the L, but its 201 affiliated centers vary on usage.

“I think it’s often a local preference,” says Terry Stone, CenterLink’s Florida-based Executive Director. “In some parts of the country, LGBT is more predominant. In other places, it’s GLBT. I don’t think that much deep thought goes into choosing LGBT or GLBT. People just use what has become familiar to them in their coming-out process.”

The DC Center’s switch isn’t the only indication that the District is now batting for LGBT. Metro Weekly also recently began favoring the acronym; Bugg says the change from GLBT to LGBT was codified in its style guide about six months ago. “I hesitate to change our style guide without having a really strong reason for it,” says Bugg. The rationale: Metro Weekly’s style was becoming increasingly inconsistent with community standards, and ‘GLBT’-schooled Metro Weekly reporters kept returning with quotes from ‘LGBT’-happy subjects. “A lot of people would be using ‘LGBT’ in a quote, and we would be using ‘GLBT’ as a matter of style,” says Bugg. “It became a bit awkward and confusing.”



The DC Center logo, before and after the switch.

Also confusing: navigating the ever-expanding roster of initials that can be added to the standard four-letter-acronym. Local newspaper the Washington Blade has an evolving approach to the acronym. According to Editor in Chief Kevin Naff, the paper “uses LGBT in stories and headlines.” In its branding, however, the paper now tacks on an extra Q.

“We’ve recently added the Q to our tagline in response to reader inquiries and concerns that those ‘questioning’ their sexual orientation were excluded from coverage,” Naff says. “We have not added the Q to standard references in stories, mostly because the alphabet soup starts to get unwieldy.”

Other emerging subgroups may add more letters to the acronym: an I, for “intersex”; an extra T, for the Native American identity of the “two-spirit”; an A, for either “ally” or “asexual”; and the Q, for either “queer” or “questioning.” Bugg says that Metro Weekly eschews the Q for clarity reasons. “We don’t use Q because it’s not standardized,” he says. “If you start packing on Q, depending on the context it can mean ‘queer,’ or it can mean ‘questioning,’”adds Bugg. “You want your readers to know what you’re talking about.”

Beyond D.C., there remains no industry acronym standard. According to GLAAD’s “Media Reference Guide,” which instructs journalists how best to cover the community, both “LGBT” and “GLBT” are acceptable. GLAAD notes that acronyms “are often used because they are more inclusive of the diversity of the community,” but warns that “Care should be taken to ensure that audiences are not confused by their use.”

Perhaps that’s why the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the New York Times refrain from mentioning any of the related acronyms in their style guides—for the uninitiated, even the four basic initials can require a more verbose explanation.

But the politics of community acronyms go far beyond scannability. “Acronyms are tough,” says Deb Greenspan, who writes for local entertainment site Brightest Young Gays. “On the one hand, you’re able to give a bunch of discrete, self-identifying groups representation while making life a bit easier on your reader. On the other hand, whenever you start to list letters, you get the sense that you better list them all,” she says.

Lists also imply rank. “You inevitably have to put someone first and someone
last in the string of letters,” says Greenspan. The potential for point-counting is one reason Greenspan prefers to call the whole thing off: “I tend to use queer, since it removes the issue of rank,” she says. Zack Rosen, editor of local website The New Gay, also uses queer: “I want to make sure that we don’t use terms that leave anyone out, and I think queer is the most inclusive umbrella term,” Rosen says. “It doesn’t make any assumptions about how people identify.”

But for some, moving the ‘L’ to the front of the line constitutes an important political statement. “I always understood it as a nod to feminism,” says Greenspan. “For a long time, the gay community was not inclusive of women, and lesbians had to forge out on their own in a lot of ways. The balance still isn’t perfect, but I think the L in front is a recognition of that.”

If putting ladies first is a sign of respect, what does it mean that bisexual and transgender people consistently take up the rear? For a long time, working to simply tack on the ‘T’ was met with controversy. “T is still a fairly recent addition, and it’s not one that is fully accepted by all parts of the community,” says Bugg.

Since the wider community’s best-known activists don’t always focus on the concerns of Is, As, Qs and Ts, acronym inclusion can come off as tokenism. Metro Weekly’s internal style guide now contains a four-paragraph discussion of acronyms, which warns reporters against overstating the magazine’s coverage via acronym. “We only use LGBT when we’re speaking about an issue that is inclusive of all four of those. If it’s solely about gay men, you use ‘gay men.’ If it’s something that deals solely with lesbians, you use ‘lesbians,’” says Bugg.

“It’s all well and good if we use inclusive acronyms, but if you’re not actually reflecting all those letters in your magazine, then it really doesn’t matter,” he says. “As important as it is to be inclusive, it’s far more important to actually tell the stories of those lives.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • kza

    I guess we've really made some strides as a society since this is actually an issue over anything else.

  • Meg

    "LGBT" is easier to pronounce, which is why I think it became popular. "GLBT" makes the "L" sound awkward.

  • Beth

    And in other news, transgendered people, what what?

    To simplify it, the whole name should just be condensed down to "Q" or "The Q Continuum" like on Star Trek.

  • mdesus

    does anywhere actually have a more vibrant, and politically potent lesbian community than gay community?

  • Spotted H0rse

    Meg: I agree: "Ell gee bee tee" as opposed to "Gee yell bee tee" is punchier and easier to pronounce.

    Interesting that rank is implied, as Amanda notes, by the order of the list. I'm both the Professor and Mary Ann in the Gilligan's Island scenario.

  • Katie

    @mdesus: dunno, is it a race? fun! also lesbians ARE gay, or at least that's what i hear from the kids these days.

  • Chrematisai

    Yes, the Q Continuum! Star Trek FTW!

    But honestly, yes, sometimes I feel like just "Q" would be a bit easier, queer being a nice umbrella term that kinda includes it all. However, I realize that not everyone that falls under the current alphabet soup is okay with the use of that word, so . . . what can you do. It's a bit of a tricky subject.

  • DC Hoodrat

    I have ALWAYS used LGBT. I actually never paid attention to the Center. I must not be gay enough.

  • noodlez


  • Tasty Snatch

    You do Ms. Noodlez. That's why you responded, hon.

  • Marty

    I can't find the source to cite at the moment, but I've heard in the past that the usage of "queer" as a descriptor of the community has a racial component to it as well. Not that it only refers to a particular racial group, but that white people tend to self-identify as "queer" more than often than people of color. I remember the source at the time being a survey that was performed at a convention for black gay men, I think from the mid-90s? Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

    Also "queer" definitely has a generational component. Most people I know over the age of 40 who aren't necessarily versed in queer theory or involved in the community cringe at it. I was using the phrase around my father a bunch, and he interjected "I just don't get that; to me it would be like saying N-word Theory."


    LOL@Noodlez & Tasty Snatch. Tasty Snatch, you were wrong for calling NOODLEZ Ms. Noodlez. LOL LOL

  • noodlez


  • Jessica

    As a lesbian in DC I can undoubtedly say that gay men come first, and ladies come after gay men, bisexual men, trans men, and straight men.

  • yoshi

    The only fair method is alphabetical: BGLT

  • Angela Erde

    Jessica writes: "As a lesbian in DC I can undoubtedly say that gay men come first, and ladies come after gay men, bisexual men, trans men, and straight men."

    And are intersex people included at all? LGBT leaves us out.

    Let's make it LGBTI and stop excluding intersex people from equality and law reforms.

  • Pingback: Ladies First: Does D.C. Have a GLBT Community or an LGBT One? | The HomoFile

  • cmb

    I've always said LGBT when a 4-letter abbreviation was being used. More often, though, I say "the queer community." It's a little more cumbersome, but I feel that it is more inclusive. LGBT implies a rigid "check-box" structure and enforces the gender binary. It leaves out the intersex, the gender-queer, polyamorous, pansexual, two-spirited, asexual, and countless other gender and sexual minorities. Sure, these communities are small, but as a marginalized group as a whole, we ought to understand what it is to be disenfranchised.
    Queer is a word we've taken back, more or less. While it still sounds dirty when shouted by a stranger from a moving car, what descriptor doesn't? It is an easy and more inclusive way of describing those who do not identify with the male-female cis-gender, heterosexual norm.

  • Pingback: LGBT vs. GLBT: Metro Weekly Decides « The NLGJA Blog

  • Michael Sessa

    As president of The DC Center, we avoided this issue for a while as our brand had become 'GLBT'. But as David Mariner, our Executive Director, mentioned, more organizations were adopting 'LGBT'. My personal issue is that for too long we have been focusing on what makes us different. How many letters does it take to be inclusive? LGBTQI...ok that's 6 letters down, 20 letters to go. How about in alphabetical order: BGILQT. I wish we would focus more on what we have in common. As a wise leader once said, 'united we stand, divided we fall.'

  • Joi

    Yes, let's focus on what "we" have in common: being white and male.