History of the word “Queer” and other LGBTQ+ vocab

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Queer. A somewhat controversial term that has partially reflected the evolution of acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community in American society. Originating as a slur in the very late 1800s, “queer” became a commonplace derogatory term by 1914, targeting homosexual individuals. Although there is evidence going back as far as 1934 of the word queer being used as a self-identifier, it wasn’t until the later part of the 20th century that the word queer started becoming reclaimed on a large scale. From the 1980s to the present day, “queer” has become an increasingly commonplace term used by the LGBTQ+ community to describe themselves.

This is been evidenced by the titles of TV shows to the names of LGBTQ+ supporting organizations, several of which included the word “queer” (The National Archives 2021).  In fact, in 2016, the LBGTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD made the official recommendation to add the letter “Q” to LGBT, transitioning the acronym to how we know it today (NBCNews.com 2016). The “Q” stands for “queer” (or “questioning”) and this addition has been a significant point in the reclamation of the word. Additionally, “queer” has also evolved into an umbrella term encompassing  “a variety of non-heteronormative identities and sexualities” and those who don’t identify with any other of the LGBTQ+ labels (The National Archives 2021). Although the word has seen success in its reclamation, many individuals within the community don’t feel comfortable with the term because of its historically negative connotations. It is important to remember that this word was a means of inflicting hurt and prejudice, so we should be mindful and respectful of people’s preferences of its use. 

To learn more about Queer History, click here: https://www.oah.org/tah/issues/2019/may/queer-history/ 


Language is always evolving and with that has come the ability to better describe the various gender and sexual identities amongst people. As a way to help everyone celebrate all those under the Rainbow Flag, here are two websites that include a dictionary of identities and language used within the community. Feel free to share these resources with your colleagues and students. 





“GLAAD Officially Adds the 'Q' to LGBTQ.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 26 Oct. 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/glaad-officially-adds-q-lgbtq-n673196

The National Archives. “'Queer' History: A History of Queer.” The National Archives Blog, The National Archives, 3 Mar. 2021, https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/queer-history-a-history-of-queer/.