"Queer" Reinvented

“Queer” means…

“Not straight which includes questioning… it is not something to be ashamed of but truth.” 

“A catchall word for people who don’t feel represented by other LGBT+ labels but aren’t hetero.”

"Umbrella term for all members of the LGBT+ community."

Entering the English language in the 16th century, the word meant “odd,” “peculiar,” or referred to someone exhibiting some sort of derangement. The first modern use of the word “queer” was in 1894 as a homophobic slur. After it was introduced into many people’s vocabulary, English dictionaries began to present a steady progression of the word throughout the next several decades. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition presents “queer” as: "[Slang] homosexual: in general usage, still chiefly a slang term of contempt or derision, but lately used as by some academics and homosexual activities as a descriptive term without negative connotations.” During the underground gay bar scene in the 1950s, people angrily shouted “queer!” in the streets derogatorily to those of the LGBT community. It became a word to express hatred and prejudice, although it was technically made out to be an indifferent representation of those who were attracted to the same sex. However, the queer community held onto it as a sense of pride for their identities. As the gay rights movement grew, so did the meaning behind the word “queer.” It became a positive label to the Queer Nation group, a radical organization in the 1990s, to combat violence against the LGBT community.

The community reclaimed the word to become a symbol of anarchy during the AIDS epidemic. Protesters would cry “we’re here, we’re queer, and we will not live in fear!” Activism throughout the '80s and '90s for the queer community formed the birth of a new meaning for the previously derogatory slur.

Fast forward to the present day, we use it as a word of empowerment for the LGBT community. It represents our pride and how far we’ve come in the rights of our humanity. We define queer now as an umbrella term to describe a non-normative identity—whether that be gay, lesbian, trans, pan, or anything you want it to be. However, many are still apprehensive to use the word that for so many years has referred to the community in a belittling way. Nevertheless, the community has reclaimed “queer” as a word of promise for defining the new wave of young people authentically expressing their identities, including some identities that are unique to individuals and aren’t included in the LGBT acronym already. Although it is a label rejected by some and accepted by others, it holds an entirely new meaning for the community with an elasticity that can extend to any aspect of non-heterosexual identity. 

(photo 1- Getty Images, photo 2- Shuttershock)

Source: Perlman, Merrill. “How the Word 'Queer' Was Adopted by the LGBTQ Community.” Columbia Journalism Review, Columbia Journalism Review, 22 Jan. 2019, www.cjr.org/language_corner/queer.php.