By Joe Perez
Boos and hisses to The Daily Dish and Slog, two blogs which picked up a story about the LGBT group at the University of Michigan in the midst of changing its name. Slog makes a valid point, at least, that the group seems preoccupied with process (Slog calls them "process queens"). But then to score rhetorical points, the crabby Dan Savage at Slog invents the term "LGBTQIALMNOP community" and implies that U of M is actually contemplating such a horrible name. Not true. Equally crabby Andrew Sullivan picks up the meme, suggesting that the LGBT group at U of M wants to rename itself the "The Office of LGBTQRSTV Affairs". Another fiction. Both Slog and The Daily Dish resort to fiction to ridicule the college club, presumably in a wanting effort at parody.
But does the group at U of M deserve such parody? From what I can tell by reading the group's actual online document, neither Savage nor Sullivan are representing the group fairly. According to the group's website, the name change initiative was inaugurated in an attempt to actually move beyond alphabet soup and acronym-based, label-based group names. They seem to recognize the dilemma posed by the sort of naming policies in the past that simply added letter to an acronym in a misguided effort to add to a "hierarchy of oppressions". They write:
Several peer organizations, particularly institutions of higher education, but also national organizations, have names of LGBTQ centers/offices that make no mention of specific letters:
UMass Amherst: Stonewall Center
CSU-Sonoma: Center for Gender and Sexuality
UConn: Rainbow Center
The Task Force
Human Rights Campaign
*The Office of LGBT Affairs began as the Human Sexuality Office and, since then, there have been many permutations and iterations of the name of the Office (Lesbian and Gay Male Programs Office, then Bisexual was added, then Transgender was added). It is necessary that the Office adopt a name that will withstand "naming" and labeling trends.
In other words, the Office at U of M is seeking to overcome precisely the problem in naming that Savage and Sullivan are accusing them of supporting. They want to overcome labeling trends, not immerse themselves in the latest and greatest labeling fad!
Savage's ridicule of "process queens" isn't wrong; it just seems too obvious. Sullivan's criticism seems more culpable, for he either willfully misrepresents the LGBT campus group or seems not to have read the actual U of M LGBT group website, for he writes, "I have no idea why the gay rights movement has to be represented by a term that looks like a hamlet in Croatia..." (which is actually the point being made by the folks at U of M -- they don't want a term like LGBT to represent the community; they are looking at terms such as The Taskforce and The Rainbow Center among others as guides for overcoming alphabet soup).
Listen, bloggers. If a group wants to overcome terms that look like Croatian (no offense, Croatians), then why hold them up for ridicule? They should be receiving nods from folks who despise acronym soup, not ridicule. So let's just shrug off Savage and Sullivan this time and trust the folks at U of M to make good progress on their name. My two cents: they could do worse in naming than Rainbow Center.
Spiritual mentor, author, poet, and scholar. Joe is best known for his 2007 book Soulfully Gay. one of the first memoirs in the tradition of World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality, where he works with Director Marc Gafni in providing leadership to the think tank. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality. Arctophile and ailurophile. A little bit country and a little bit "part and whole." Follow Joe Perez Facebook and Joe Perez Twitter.