Baker: Big group identity does more harm

Brandon Baker

Brandon BakerIn 11th grade, I decided my middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania high school was morally bankrupt for denying me a Gay-Straight Alliance. So, ever the resilient rebel, I rallied the troops – the few there are to rally in small-town Pennsylvania, anyway – and battled the Waynesboro Area School District’s school board until I got my way.

And I did.

But looking back, I realize something that eluded my adolescent self: I wasn’t fighting for LGBT rights. I was fighting for gay rights.

It’s in the title, after all: Gay-Straight Alliance. I fought under the guise that I knew best for the LGBT community when, in fact, I knew nothing about the other three letters. I knew plenty about being the sassy gay man mocked in gym class for not being “one of the boys,” but little about being a victim of transphobia, a lesbian pigeonholed as a “dyke” for lacking feminine qualities or a bisexual treated like an easily-dismissed, virtually invisible minority who just needs to “pick a side.”

I was not wrong to start a GSA, but I was wrong to lead under the pretense that I was an expert in a community I was hardly acquainted with, let alone knowledgeable of.

Philadelphia Magazine’s Spring 2013 issue of G Philly (which, full disclosure, I wrote for in a freelance capacity – and happily so) has gotten flak for stripping its target audience of the “LBT,” summoning charges that the magazine is somehow guilty of bullying and disenfranchising audiences it’s catered to in the past. But what’s little discussed, aside from the fact that their blog remains all-inclusive, is that publications everywhere – niche-oriented or otherwise – tend to be gay-centric anyway. Or at least in name. Just take a gander at Philadelphia Gay News, for example. Is my eyesight so poor that I’m not reading it as “Philadelphia LGBT News”? And correct me if I’m wrong, but the antediluvian newspaper has been published by the same gay white male for as long as anyone can remember.

But again, that’s not entirely wrong, per se, that’s just recognizing that the gay community faces different challenges than others thrown into the dreadfully outdated and confusing LGBTQ acronym.

Rather than add letters – why in the world are we further confounding with an added “I” and “A”? – we need to press the “backspace” key a few times until there’s only one remaining. And that, folks, is not indicative of alienation – it’s just common sense.

With each state that legalizes marriage equality, we tally and tout it as a victory for the LGBT community. But is it really? I’m not seeing much of a win for the “T” in that acronym. Sure, it does make an honest impact in the transgender community, but it’s hardly the issue at the forefront of my transgender friends’ minds. They care about the cost of gender reassignment surgery, the struggles of being treated by society as mentally ill, no matter how good of a job Felicity Huffman does portraying the trans community, and dealing with those who don’t understand their pronoun preference and, more often than not, attack them for it as if they’re merely being “oversensitive.”

What we need is not an LGBT magazine, what we need is a specific magazine for the “L”; a magazine for the “B”; a magazine for the “T”; and, as we now have in Philadelphia, a magazine for the “G.”

Let’s not pretend we’re all part of the same culture. We’re not. And you know what? That’s OK.

It’s not that the individual letters of “LBT” have less cultural content to discuss in a magazine than gay men, it’s that it’s all too much to shuffle under an umbrella and have reflected holistically. Compounding with that, there are few leaders advocating for strictly “L,” “B” or “T”-targeted news media.

At present moment, it is a gay man’s world. And that, I admit, is an unfortunate reality, but not necessarily one that need – or will – endure. All the same, continuing to trek along as if “we’re all in it together” is a moot point, when the harsher truth is that we’re all fighting for our own individual rights and recognition under an acronym we’re forced into.

The LGBT community doesn’t have a journalism problem – it has a PR problem.

What these individual communities need now more than ever is re-organization, a back-to-the-drawing-board approach that targets each community in a way that is more reflective of what each letter actually wants and embodies. The LGBT community could benefit from a light-bulb moment that inspires movement leaders to rebrand the message and stop pretending gay rights are synonymous with LGBT rights. After all, ask any straight male from my hometown of Waynesboro, Pa., what the difference is between these two fights, and I guarantee you’ll catch them scratching their heads. That’s a problem.

And what, dare I ask, happens when same-sex marriage is universally legal? Are we so sure that gay men and lesbians will still stand so devotedly beside the “B” and “T” as they continue to battle for their rights and fair treatment, even after the former two have begun enjoying full rights as citizens? Call me cynical, but I don’t buy it.

The LGBT community would be better served by adding spaces between these letters and serving as ardent and more efficient versions of themselves, because, as things currently stand, transgender leaders are overshadowed by gay celebrity personalities and gay movement leaders – not unlike myself as the skinny-gay white boy forming a GSA  – perceived as more socially acceptable for speaking to a closed-minded at-large American audience. (Though I will note the exception of the fabulous Allison Palmer from GLAAD and Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality.)

The jig is up: We’re successfully out of the closet. Now let’s step out of the bedroom – the house – and into the real world. The LGBT acronym has done its job. Now, it’s time for it to buy a condo in Boca Raton and fade into the sunset. Fess up, LBT folks: You don’t need an all-inclusive Gay-Straight Alliance or lifestyle magazine. You need a place to call your own.

What’s in a name? As it turns out, more than you’d think.

Brandon Baker can be reached at brandon.baker@temple.edu.

3 Comments

  1. Nstotuent Back in April and November of 2010, I chained myself to the White House fence with GetEqual towards repeal of DADT. The repeal didn’t impact my subcommunity of the LGBT community: I’m T.

    MLK Jr once stated that’s life most pertinent question is “what are we doing for others? We can do better than giving into the propensity of only working for our own self-interests.

    The solution isn’t that broad LGBT Community further divide, but that those with narrow self interest remember that larger community identification groups accomplish more with larger numbers than smaller, splintered populations.

  2. Mr. Baker touches on some elements of truth, as it is a “mans world” in society in general, in the LGBT community it is a “gay mans world”. As a mature woman of transgender experience, I do know a bit about having male privilege and also about losing it. I’ve been on both sides of the street both as a heterosexual male and a lesbian female. Being a transwoman additionally gives me the perspective of being in the depths of societal expectations ( the gutter?).

    There is one thing Mr. Baker should however realize and acknowledge … that to our enemies, the haters, those cannot tolerate any of us …when two gay men, regardless of how straight acting or conservatively dressed they may be, are seen walking in public hand in hand, they are as queer looking and perhaps more vulnerable as any couple of transpeople.

    There are many different cultures and subcultures within the LGBT community which should be understood and respected, but the more we find and understand and act upon our common grounds, the stronger we can be and affect positive change.

  3. For some of the gay community, if they are truly interested in helping children that will grow up to be gay and not just interested in their own present day desires, they need to learn about and understand, support and include the trans community. Why? Because many gays first came to the attention of their parents and friends due to non-traditional gender expression. By making the world more accepting of non-traditional gender expression, people will be more accepting of gay children.

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