Of Diversity, Language and Learning

By Feather, John | Aging Today, July/August 2011 | Go to article overview

Of Diversity, Language and Learning


Feather, John, Aging Today


Since its founding in 1954, one of ASA's core hallmarks has been its diverse membershipa community texturalIy rich with many professional and personal roles, united by a commitment to improve the lives of elders and their families. The In Focus section of this issue of Aging Today illumines one particular population, the LGBT community, and shows how lessons learned in one group can become important to heed for others. As an aging gay man, these issues are both professionally and personally important to me.

What Is- or Is Not- in a Name

When developing the stories in this section, we realized it was necessary to identify the proper nomenclature (see the sidebar box on page 7). But even that wasn't simple, as there exists no one source to consult for pertinent naming, which is in flux. "L" may always stand for Lesbian, but does Q stand for Queer, Questioning, or both?

Although it runs counter to modern media methods, where the nature of the words used isn't as important as getting them out quickly (and with accompanying You Tube video), we still need to exercise caution when naming. Language is constantly evolving, and with each evolution, it's likely that lively (often incendiary) discussion over semantics will ensue: what begins as an attempt to be inclusive can quickly turn divisive.

Some in the younger LGBT faction would like to reclaim the word queer as an all-encompassing descriptor, but for many in the older generation, it retains far too negative a connotation to be used comfortably, especially in print. So in most instances in this issue of Aging Today we've used the basic LGBT naming device, but also included the descriptions as general reference for stories that use the lengthier LGBTQQIA.

This small language rift illustrates the great diversity within the LGBT community: some LGBT elders have lived their lives in the closet, some have exited recently, some have children from former relationships, some have kids with gay or lesbian partners. There are the prosperous, single LGBT elders one commonly hears about, and those just scraping by financially who depend upon our social safety net. Such a spectrum is wise to keep in mind when it comes to advocating and policymaking. …

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