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|Why our ‘Queer of the Year’ is now our ‘Person of the Year’|
|by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|December 28, 2010 14:51|
What happened to our Queer of the Year?
In our Dec. 24 issue, in print and online, the GA Voice named our inaugural “Queer of the Year” — an annual honor that will go to the LGBT person, or ally, we think has had the most significant effect on LGBT rights in Georgia in the last 12 months.
This year the honor went to attorney Dan Grossman for his dedication and diligence in fighting for the civil rights of the Atlanta Eagle patrons who were victims of the illegal 2009 police raid on the gay leather bar. Earlier this month, the city agreed to a $1.025 million settlement in the federal civil rights lawsuit Grossman spearheaded.
If you read the article in print or in the last few days on our website, you will see that the title of the honor has now been changed to “GA Voice Person of the Year.”
So why was it originally “Queer of the Year,” and why did we change it?
“Queer” has long been a contested term in our community, and it isn’t one we use lightly. The reasons we chose it for our annual honor were both practical and philosophical:
• We have no good umbrella term for our community, and “queer” is often as close as it gets. The GA Voice LGBTQQIA Person of the Year is both unwieldy and probably would still leave out some letters that represent slices of who we are.
• As writers and editors, we like that “Queer of the Year” is short, snappy, and rhymes. It’s catchy, and sets us apart from other publications — gay and not — that name a “person” or “people” of the year.
• While the word “queer” has previously been used as a slur against LGBT people, there is a strong argument to be made (and you can see it happening on our Facebook page here) for reclaiming a term once used against us. Also, unlike the “n-word” — which stands out undeniably as the ultimate racial slur — “queer” is by no means the only, or perhaps even the most common, term used against us. So many of us have been taunted as gays (including the ubiquitous and hurtful “that’s so gay”), fags, dykes, trannies, lesbos, homos, etc., that if a word is off limits because it is used as a slur, we would have few left to describe ourselves.
• Thanks to groups like Queer Nation in the 1990s and even the local Queer Justice League now, “queer” has come to connote not only gay or transgender, but gay or transgender (or even someone who eschews those categories) with a specifically activist slant — and that spirit of activism is what we are honoring with this award.
• If something is “queer,” it is also perceived as “other” or outside of the normal range, and we found the term particularly fitting with the Eagle raid. While some patrons of the Eagle also may not embrace the term “queer,” the fact is that the leather community is also often perceived as “other” within the LGBT community — a factor, we think, that contributed to some members of our community being slow to rally around the victims of the police raid. We are grateful that Grossman saw through such stereotypes.
So why, given all of these arguments, have we changed the title of our award from “Queer of the Year” to “Person of the Year”?
Quite simply, because we sat down with Dan Grossman this morning, and we discussed at length why he does not use the word “queer” to describe himself.
Here is how Grossman explains it, in his own words:
The word queer comes with significant political baggage and implies, to many, a sense of separateness. My own vision of the path to LGBT equality is not through separateness but inclusion; I think we should work toward a world in which straight people see their LGBT neighbors as being so much like themselves that it would be unfathomable to treat them differently.
I think many gay people don't realize the impact of the word "queer" because it has become so mainstream within the gay community, it is easy to forget the effect it still has outside our self-contained world.
Grossman, GA Voice Deputy Editor Dyana Bagby and I had an in-depth discussion about the term “queer,” approached from the point of view of three people so deeply committed to the cause of LGBT equality that we have all staked our careers on it. We agreed on many things and disagreed on a few others.
But whether or not I, or you, agree with Grossman’s assessment of the meaning of “queer” doesn’t really matter.
We are changing the title of the award to “Person of the Year” because by naming Grossman as “Queer of the Year,” and looking for a succinct, snappy headline, we inadvertently broke one of our most important style rules: We identify members of our community with the terms they prefer to be called.
The most obvious example of this is with transgender people. We don’t ask where transgender people are in their journey — have they changed their legal sex? Have they taken hormones or other physical steps toward transition? — before determining which pronouns to use to describe them. We recognize that some people take these steps, while others never do, and we use the pronouns that the individual prefers.
Likewise with sexual orientation, and the word “queer.”
We sometimes use the word “queer” in our lighter Arts & Entertainment section, which we think befits the growing, casual acceptance of the word in our community.
For example, our Dec. 24 print edition article about the year’s top five LGBT moments in film, theater, television and music was titled “Queer as these folks,” a play on the name of the groundbreaking gay television series “Queer as Folk.”
We also note that events like the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, the Carolinas newspaper Q-Notes, and blogs like the national Queerty.com and our local ProjectQAtlanta.com — all make explicit or implied use of “queer” to reference our entire community.
Still, the GA Voice does not typically use the word “queer” to describe people unless they use it themselves (as director/actor John Cameron Mitchell did in an interview that also appeared in our last issue). This is particularly true in our news coverage, where our profile on “Queer of the Year” was published.
So from here on out, we invite you to join us in congratulating Dan Grossman as our inaugural “GA Voice Person of the Year,” and thanking him for his landmark work on behalf of the victims of the Eagle raid.
And we also invite you to please tell us what you think:
Do you describe yourself as “queer”? Why or why not? And do you think the use of the term helps or hurts our fight for equality?
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