Sean Bugg

When 'Inclusive' Language Actually Excludes

Filed By Sean Bugg | April 03, 2012 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gays in the military, inclusive language, LGBT vs gay, trans in the military, words matter

Just caught this story of anti-gay abuse by a drill sergeant over at Instinct, and it raised some red flags regarding the ongoing problems of using "gay" and "LGBT" interchangeably. First, the story: an Army drill sergeant engaged in a campaign of harassment language-matters.jpegagainst an unnamed gay soldier, including rock throwing, physical choking and firing of blanks at close range. After some straight fellow soldiers "came out" and received the same treatment, the drill sergeant was investigated, he was removed from duty and all kinds of shitstorm are apparently headed his way.

In all, good story about how the overall military culture is changing and adapting in the wake of repeal of DADT. Here's the wrap-up graf at Instinct:

Lt. Dan Choi brought this story to our attention, and we have to say, we're impressed by the steps the US Military is taking to make it an LGBT friendly environment. It's great to see they're making an effort to weed out the bad apples. And how about those straight allies in uniform? Well done, Sirs.

So, here's the problem.

So, here's the problem. The military isn't taking steps to make it an LGBT friendly environment -- it's taking steps to make the armed services a gay and lesbian friendly environment. There is a significant difference there. As much of an accomplishment repealing DADT was for gay soldiers, it did nothing to change the situation of transgender servicemembers. Trans people in the military still live under threat of expulsion and harassment, with no recourse.

This is what happens when people reflexively use "LGBT" as a synonym for "gay." (I'm not picking on Instinct, it's just that this is a particularly telling example.) The move from "gay and lesbian" to "LGBT" is something that sprung from noble motives of inclusion and, in general, it's been a successful and good change. But language matters and "LGBT" simply isn't the right term to use in every context. In the case of post-DADT military issues, it's incredibly important to make that distinction because, again, transgender servicemembers are still explicitly barred from service.

Saying that the military is making itself "LGBT friendly" obscures that fact, encourages complacency, and, in a somewhat ironic way, uses an "inclusive" term in a way that excludes the people actually represented by that "T".

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