Toronto
3 min

Queer as mud

What’s in a name? That which we call a pansy by any other name would smell as sweet. But not a queer service organization. They just can’t win when it comes to the name game.

Take for example the pursed lips over the renaming of the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal. The foundation, which raises money and hands it out to various groundbreaking projects involving sexual orientation and gender identity, is henceforth to be called the Community One Foundation (see Charities Rebrand Themselves).

The decision has understandably caused alarm; Community One is possibly the least gay name going. If you didn’t know better you could easily mistake it for a local soup kitchen. (Others sharing the same name include an American credit union, an international computer programming conference and an Australian community centre.) While the rainbow wrapped into its new logo will provide the unfamiliar with a clue to its mandate Community One isn’t the sort of name that will jump out of a list of charities as having anything to do with sexuality.

The cynic in me suspects this may be, in part, the point. As was noted at this spring’s LGBT Giving in Canada conference there are some corporations that are happy to donate to queer causes as long as knowledge of their support is contained for fear of rousing the ire of their conservative clientele. If that’s the case then supporting the Community One Foundation is a safe bet, infinitely more appealing than supporting an organization with “gay” and “lesbian” bold as brass in its title.

This degaying of our community organizations is perhaps especially irksome post-Pride, which saw major media sponsor CTV skipping over sexuality in many of its promos, rendering Pride an inoffensive “arts and cultural festival.” And of course Pride Toronto, the organization behind what is supposed to be a celebration of all things homosexy, dumped the gay from its title years ago.

Of course there’s more to all the fuss over nomenclature than the threat of assimilation. Pride Toronto, the Community One Foundation, lobby group Egale Canada and countless other queer organizations have all struggled with titles in light of the everexpanding identities of their constituents.

It’s an old and tired question: What do we call ourselves when we’re trying to be inclusive? For many organizations the solution has been an unwieldy alphabet soup, an aggregate of identifications that, at its most exhaustive, looks something like LGBTT2QQ*. (The asterisk represents all the folks who aren’t listed, like asexual and intersexed folks.) Thankfully most organizations have called it quits at LGBT, but even then, spell it out and you’ve taken up a full line of text.

For others, myself included, queer is the term of choice because it has come to signify all manner of same-sex lovers — lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, tourists — as well as trans folks and other genderbending folk. Hell, you can even throw the kinky/poly straight folks in there too, just for good measure.

But then my generation came out at a time when queer was already reclaimed. For the older crowd — and let’s not forget that these are the people who laid the groundwork for the rights and culture we have today — queer remains distasteful, if not downright offensive.

Moreover queer is probably too edgy — and too closely associated with lefty politics — for our more respectable organizations (read the ones trying to raise money from the corporate sector and/or cozy up to politicians).

So then why not just leave it at gay and lesbian and let folks figure out whether they belong or not, based on what’s on offer? That’s what Xtra does, with its tag “Toronto’s gay and lesbian biweekly.” This has also been the decision of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, though it is shifting the emphasis to the A in some versions of its new logo. As executive director Robert Windrum puts it, if the services haven’t changed does it matter if the word trans is in the title?

Well, yes and no. Within the community gays and lesbians continue to be seen as the haves, while bi and trans folks are the have-nots, and so use of gay continues to rankle in some quarters.

All of which brings us to the downright unfabulous name Community One for one of our most beloved community organizations.

I wasn’t kidding when I said they couldn’t win.