News Editor, The Pendulum
SPECTRUM, formerly known as Elon University’s gay-straight alliance, will now be called the queer-straight alliance.
President Jess McDonald, a junior, said the organization recently decided to use the word queer to reclaim a once-derogatory term, but mainly to be fully inclusive. Even though the “alphabet soup” acronym, LGBTQIA, continues to grow and currently refers to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allies, McDonald said it will never be fully inclusive.
“That’s why the acronym is so long and no one likes it,” she said. “We’re using (queer) to be fully inclusive of non-normative sexual identities.”
According to McDonald, who recently received a Lumen Prize to research the history and progression of LGBT student groups on college campuses, the word queer can refer to members of the straight population, as well. Those who approach the world from the queer perspective and see the world from a disempowered viewpoint can be considered queer, she said.
“Queer is this one inclusive word that incorporates all of us,” said junior Raafe Purnsley, vice president of SPECTRUM.
Although the word has previously been used with a negative connotation, there are no terms referring to any of the many communities within the queer population that are guaranteed to be inoffensive, sophomore Bobby Rawlings, SPECTRUM’s treasurer, said.
“We don’t know what we want to be called, or what other people want to be called,” Rawlings said. “It’s difficult to instruct other people on how to address us when we don’t know how to address ourselves.”
Rawlings said since the queer population is ethnically diverse, there is no family tree of bad words to trace back through history. Rawlings said this is one of the reasons why people often have trouble finding a way to describe those in the queer community.
“People are scared of being ignorant,” he said. “But if you don’t ask at all and are never corrected, you’ll never find out.”
Senior Brandon Lee Tankard, former president of SPECTRUM, said that terms are often a point of contention but issues with language are counter productive.
“There are so many other issues, so many other things to fight for,” he said.
According to McDonald, there are at least 10 straight allies for every queer student. But even though Elon’s campus is composed mainly of straight students, the vast majority of them do not participate in SPECTRUM.
Purnsley defines allies as those who are straight and support or are friends with individuals in the gay community. McDonald said she thinks the term “ally” is not restricted to the straight population.
“I think of myself as an ally to the trans community,” she said. “We’re allies to each other.”
Rawlings said there is still discrimination of allies, even though he thinks most people on campus are allies whether they realize it or not.
“It’s difficult to stand up in a southern, rural school and say ‘I support gay people,'” Rawlings said. “If you’re a guy in support of gay rights, people think ‘Oh, he must be in the closet.'”
Purnsley and McDonald both said allies are vital not only to the success of SPECTRUM’s events, but also to make Elon a more queer-friendly campus.
“Making campus a safer place for people to be allies makes it easier for us to be queer,” McDonald said.