Explaining Queer to Kids

Gay Times: Reclaiming the Word Queer

Info: Sex and Gender

PFLAG: Definition of Queer

Huff Post: What it Means to be Queer


Umbrella Term for Sexual Minorities


The word "queer" has traditionally meant odd, strange, peculiar, or unusual, though in modern use it often pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Additionally, it is being applied more and more to a broader category of sexual minorities, including a range of gender variant and non-normative heterosexual people. People who reject traditional gender identities and seek a more fluid and deliberately ambiguous alternative to the label LGBT may describe themselves as "queer" (Adding "Q" to the acronym is a good start).


 Its usage is considered controversial and underwent substantial changes over the course of the 20th century with some gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people reclaiming the term as a means of self-empowerment.



The term is still considered by some to be offensive and derisive. Certainly, there are those who recall past experiences of harassment in which they were called "queer" as an insult or putdown. Others regard it as a re-appropriated term used to describe a sexual orientation and/or gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to heteronormative society.


In contemporary usage, some use "queer" as an inclusive, unifying sociopolitical, self-affirming umbrella term for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, transsexual, intersexual, genderqueer, or of any other non-heterosexual sexuality, sexual anatomy, gender identity, or gender expression. "Queer" in this sense (depending on how broadly it is defined) is commonly used as a simpler synonym for the ever-expanding LGBTQQIIAA+ acronym.


Within the community, the term "queer" has come to mean anyone who doesn’t identify under rigid binaries of straight/gay or male/female or man/woman.  It has become an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities. The term can represent a kind of freedom and acceptance which allows space for individuality and acknowledges that each person’s sexuality and identity is distinct from every other.


History of the Word Queer

Info: Gender Queer

Video: What Does Queer Really Mean?

Queer: Offensive Term?

Cosmopolitan: Queer Means Identity and Community

Explaining Queer to Kids

Queer 101: Identity and Inclusion

Video History of the Word "Queer"

PFLAG: Definition of Queer

Info: Origins of Homosexuality

How the Word Queer Was Adopted by the LGBTQ Community


Queer Definition

According to typical dictionary definitions, "queer" is a slang expression, usually disparaging and offensive, used to refer to a person who is homosexual, gay or lesbian, or a person whose sexual orientation or gender identity falls outside the heterosexual mainstream or the gender binary.


Over the past two decades, an important change has occurred in the use of the word "queer". The older, strongly pejorative use has certainly not vanished, but a use by some gay people and some academics as a neutral or even positive term has established itself.



The newer use is sometimes taken to be offensive, especially by older gay men who recall its more nefarious use as a putdown and insult.


The pink triangle was originally used by the Nazis to denote homosexuality in male concentration camp prisoners. It has since been reclaimed. Many LGBTQ-related organizations use the inverted pink triangle as a symbol of queer resistance, gay pride and gay rights.


Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, "queer" has sociopolitical connotations, and is often preferred by those who are activists, by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities, by those who reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and straight, and by those who see themselves as oppressed by the heteronormativity of the larger culture.


In this usage it retains the historical connotation of "outside the bounds of normal society" and can be construed as "breaking the rules for sex and gender." It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows queer-identifying people to avoid the sometimes strict boundaries that surround other labels. In this context, "queer" creates a space for a wider range of sexual minorities.


Video: What is Queer?

Huff Post: What it Means to be Queer

Gay Times: Reclaiming the Word Queer

Cosmopolitan: Queer Means Identity and Community

Explaining Queer to Kids

PFLAG: Definition of Queer

What Does Queer Mean Today?


Reclaiming Queer


Beginning in the late-1980s, the label queer began to be reclaimed from its pejorative use as a neutral or positive self-identifier by LGBT people. An early example of this usage by the LGBT community was by an organization called Queer Nation, which was formed in March 1990 and circulated an anonymous flier at the New York Gay Pride Parade in June 1990 titled "Queers Read This". The flyer included a passage explaining their adoption of the label queer:


“Ah, do we really have to use that word? It's trouble. Every gay person has his or her own take on it. For some it means strange and eccentric and kind of mysterious. And for others queer conjures up those awful memories of adolescent suffering. Well, yes, gay is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we've chosen to call ourselves queer. Using queer is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world.”



Evolution of the Queer Term


These days, the word “geek” has become almost a cool term for a computer savvy, but perhaps socially inept person. Even though that happened with little input from the “geeks” themselves, the term does seem to be a reclaimed term of pride used by that community.

Originally a derogatory name for a homosexual, “queer” has been embraced by some in the nonheterosexual community. In response, some activists in the gay community started calling themselves “queer” in a proud way.

Since it first showed up in English about 1513, “queer” has always meant something not normal, something peculiar, something odd. Counterfeit money was “queer." Someone who is sick might say they “feel queer."  Playground bullies would call someone “queer” without knowing or intending any sexual connotations.


The Oxford English Dictionary says the noun “queer” was first used to mean homosexual by the Marquess of Queensbury, in 1894. The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang says the adjective “queer” began to mean “homosexual” about 1914, mostly in the United States, and notes it was “derogatory from the outside, not from within,” a hint that it was being embraced as a self-description even then.

The 1965 printing of Webster’s New World Dictionary, College Edition, lists “queer,” noun and adjective, as slang for homosexual. Not offensive slang, just slang.


Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition, the current one, used by the Associated Press and many news organizations, is expansive by comparison. It lists “queer” this way: “Slang for homosexual: in general usage, still chiefly a slang term of contempt or derision, but lately used as by some academics and homosexual activists as a descriptive term without negative connotations.”

The Dictionary of American Slang says “in the early 1990s queer was adopted as a non-pejorative designation by some homosexuals, in the spirit of gay pride.” The OED says that transformation began in the late 1980s.

What was happening then? It was the gay rights movement, spurred in part by the AIDS epidemic. Some sources trace the first adoption of “queer” as a positive self-label to the group Queer Nation, founded in the early 1990s as a radical organization to combat violence against homosexuals. “By co-opting the word ‘queer,’ QN claims, they have disarmed homophobes,” Newsweek wrote in 1991. Queer Nation was an offshoot of ACT UP, which stood for the AIDS coalition to Unleash Power, founded in 1987 as a protest group demanding more action to solve the AIDS crisis.


Since then, “queer” has expanded beyond meaning only “homosexual.” In fact, “queer” does not have a single meaning, except perhaps “not heterosexual.” Some people who identify as neither male nor female call themselves “genderqueer,” while others who identify that same way might call themselves “gender-fluid” or “nonbinary.” Even the “Q” in LGBTQ stands for “queer.”

“Queer” is a label, one adopted by some people, rejected by others. So it can’t be used to describe individuals, a group of specific individuals, or their gender orientations, unless their preference is known. And it can still sting. As the AP Stylebook says: “Queer is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. Do not use it when intended as a slur.”

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage says: “queer, in the sense of homosexual, should be treated as an offensive slur, but with a limited exception. Some gay men and lesbians have rehabilitated the term as an ironic badge of pride. In that sense, it may be used when the viewpoint is unmistakable. The term is acceptable in references to the emerging academic field of queer studies.”


[Source: Merrill Perlman / Columbian Journalism Review / Jan 2019]



What Does Queer Mean?


The term queer can include a variety of sexual identities and gender identities that are anything other than straight and cisgender.


In the past, "queer" was a word used to hurt and insult people. Some people still find it offensive, particularly those who remember when that word was used in a painful way. Others now use the word with pride to identify themselves.


You may not want to refer to someone as "queer" unless you know that’s how they identify themselves. When talking to someone about their sexual orientation, use the terms that they use. It’s okay (and often encouraged) to ask what labels folks prefer.


[Source: Planned Parenthood]


Queer: LGBTQ People Explain

What Does Queer Mean Today?

Info: Sex and Gender

Cosmopolitan: Queer Means Identity and Community

Video: What Does Queer Really Mean?

Queer: History Behind the Word

Explaining Queer to Kids

PFLAG: Definition of Queer

Info: Sexual Orientation

How the Word Queer Was Adopted by the LGBTQ Community



What Does It Really Mean to Be Queer

Did you know "queer" was both used as an identity and community term?

Queer is a word that clarifies that I’m not straight and ties me to the larger queer community, but it doesn’t categorize me as gay. The vagueness of the term is intentional. Queer is an identity created for anyone outside of the heterosexual norm and meant to be inclusive and create a sense of acceptance.

Okay, so what does “queer” mean? Language evolves with society, often due to the brute force and fierceness of those who wish to see change. Such is the case for queer, a term predominantly used by the LGBTQ community to stake a contrast from mainstream, heteronormative society. When I think about "queer," I just think "different."

While all labels used to describe one’s sexual orientation are unique to the individual, unlike homosexual (an attraction to the opposite gender), queer is an umbrella term that can be used by anyone under the LGBTQ spectrum. Queer conveys both an orientation and a sense of community.


The community aspect states, "Because we’re all different, we can celebrate our differences. I can accept you for who you are, and there’s power in numbers." There’s an aspect to it that doesn’t allow for isolation. Some folks who fall somewhere in the middle of the sexual orientation spectrum will describe themselves as queer rather than bisexual (attraction to both your own gender and genders other than your own) or pansexual (attraction regardless of gender). Others will use both and introduce themselves as “bisexual and queer,” for instance. The term queer is also used by those whose gender does not fall on the binary.

The celebration and use of the word queer is one of reclamation. Not too long ago, queer was still used as a slur. Back in the day, definitely when I was growing up, the word ‘queer’ was a derogatory term. The reclamation of the word is like, "This is who I am. We don’t need to be like everyone else. Let’s celebrate our differences, and don’t try to put me in any sort of box of who you need me to be because I’ll continuously try to break down the boxes.” It is worth noting that while the word queer is generally celebrated, some LGBTQ folks still prefer to avoid it due to its discriminatory history.

[Source: Sophie Saint Thomas and Dr. Kelly Wise, Cosmopolitan, Aug 2019]



Six Reasons to Use the Word Queer

The word "queer" has a complex history. With a literal meaning of "unusual, strange, or odd," people used queer as a pejorative towards members of the LGBTQ community in the late 19th century. It was specifically used for men who acted effeminate. However, starting in the 1980s, members of the LGBTQ community began reclaiming the word. Today, the word “queer” no longer has a hateful connotation. For that, you can thank the LGBTQ community. Queer is a powerful word, and here are 6 reasons you should use it more.

"Queer" communicates inclusivity - The word “queer” is inclusive for all members of the LGBTQ community. As the LGBTQ community grows to recognize all genders and sexualities, a word to reflect the community’s diverse membership is desperately needed. The most inclusive acronym currently in use is LGBTQQIAAP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies, and Pansexual), but that still leaves out many genders and sexualities (and is ridiculously long).

"Queer" is the un-label-y-ist of labels - Labels can be harmful, especially for those of us who don’t feel as though we neatly fit into any label. Having the word “queer” as an umbrella term for all sexualities and genders helps to solve the problem. It also accurately describes sexuality as fluid, which it is for many people.

There is power in reclaiming "Queer" - There is great power in taking a word that once was hurtful and making it our own. It’s a feat of the LGBTQ community, and one in which we should take great pride.


"Queer" is necessary for those questioning - Some of us knew we were part of the LGBTQ community from a very early age. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all of us. Having a term that, for lack of better words, keeps our options open as we question and discover our genders and sexual identities can be liberating. It allows us to explore without feeling confined.

"Queer" breaks down binaries - The belief in sexual and gender binaries is one of the biggest and most harmful fallacies for members of the LGBTQ community. It perpetuates biphobia, panphobia and queerphobia. Having an inclusive term that’s non-binary helps dispel misconceptions about gender and sexuality. It can be a powerful tool in combating LGBTQ phobias.

"Queer" unites the LGBTQ community - Despite being one community, there are still hostility and misconceptions between subgroups of the LGBTQ community. While we should celebrate our differences in gender and sexuality, we must remember that we are still part of a larger community. The word “queer”unites us.

[Source: Zachary Zane]



Explaining Queer to Kids

Queer: LGBTQ People Explain

Gay Times: Reclaiming the Word Queer

Info: Sex and Gender

Cosmopolitan: Queer Means Identity and Community

PFLAG: Definition of Queer

Video History of the Word "Queer"

Huff Post: What it Means to be Queer


The Q Word

Several television shows, including Queer as Folk, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, and the cartoon Queer Duck, have also used the term "queer" in their titles. This commonplace usage has, especially in the American colloquial culture, led to a more positive connotation of the word "queer" and has recently led to the more hip and iconic abbreviation "Q".


There has sprung up a variety of special interest categories and subject matter that employ the positive use of the term "queer."


Queer Studies as an academic discipline is now established at many universities. There is a sociological perspective known as Queer Theory.


Queer Theory, as defined by Kumashiro in his book Against Common Sense, posits that “being normal requires thinking in only certain ways, feeling only certain things, and doing only certain things. And it punishes those who do not conform, such as those who do not look normal, or love the right kind of person, or value the important things.”


In Fenton Johnson’s essay, Future of Queer, he sets forth that “What defines queer is not necessarily what one does in bed, but one’s stance towards the status quo.”


You can also find Queer Culture, Queer Nation, Queer Cinema, Queer Lounge, Queer Theology, Queer Nationalism, Queer Literature, Queer Art, Queer History, Career Careers, and Queer Youth.



Queer Academia


In academia, the term “queer” and the related verb “queering” broadly indicate the study of literature, discourse, academic fields, and other social and cultural areas from a non-heteronormative perspective. It often means studying a subject against the grain from the perspective of gender studies.


Queer Studies is the study of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity usually focusing on LGBTQ people and cultures. Originally centered on LGBTQ history and literary theory, the field has expanded to include the academic study of issues raised in biology, sociology, anthropology, history of science, philosophy, psychology, sexology, political science, ethics, and other fields by an examination of the identity, lives, history, and perception of queer people.



Explaining Queer to Kids

Gay Times: Reclaiming the Word Queer

Video History of the Word "Queer"

PFLAG: Definition of Queer

Huff Post: What it Means to be Queer

Queer: History Behind the Word


Queer Insight


Over the last 50 years, language around sexuality and gender has shifted and changed in incredible ways. New words have been born. Other words have changed meanings and usages. One of the more complex of these words is “queer,” a word that entered the language of sexuality and gender as a derogatory term but is now worn and embraced with pride by many.


“Queer” is a multi-faceted word that is used in different ways and means different things to different people. Here are some ways that queer is used today:


--Attracted to people of many genders.  Although dominant culture tends to dictate that there are only two genders, gender is actually far more complex. “Queer” can be a label claimed by a person who is attracted to men, women, genderqueer people, and/or other gender nonconforming people.


--Not fitting cultural norms around sexuality and/or gender identity/expression. “Queer” can be a label claimed by a person who feels that they personally don’t fit into dominant norms, due to their own gender identity/expression, their sexual practices, and their relationship style.


--Non-heterosexual. “Queer” is sometimes used as an umbrella term to refer to all people with non-heterosexual sexual orientations or all people who are marginalized on the basis of sexual orientation.


--Transgressive, revolutionary, anti-assimilation, challenging of the status quo.  Many people claim the label queer as a badge of honor that has a radical, political edge. “Queer,” for many folks, is about resistance—resisting dominant culture’s ideas of normal, rejoicing in transgression, celebrating the margins, reveling in difference, blessing ourselves.


--An epithet or slur for someone perceived to be gay or lesbian. “Queer” is still sometimes used as a derogatory term. Many people who have had the word queer used against them are understandably very uncomfortable with the word.


[Source: Unitarian Universalist Church]




Being More Welcoming and Inclusive of Queer People


--Respect queer as a valid sexual orientation and identity label.


--If you personally have negative associations with the word queer, find ways to open yourself to new understandings of the word. Do personal, gentle, deep work in order to honor and respect those who use queer to describe themselves.


--Include the word “queer” in the language you use to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity: “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer” or “LGBTQ.”


--Avoid making assumptions based on your perceptions of a person’s gender or the gender of the people they partner with—open yourself to the possibility that any person, of any age, might identify as queer.


--Learn more about queer identity on your own. You might start by reading at least two articles or books that increase your understanding of queer identity.



--Dominant culture teaches us to depend on dualisms.  Challenge yourself to eradicate dualisms from your language and your understanding of the world. Gay and straight, masculine and feminine, black and white: all dualisms obscure so many shades of grey, shades of queer, shades of androgyny and fluidity. Open yourself to this infinite variety.


--Use terms that encompass all genders rather than only two (“children” instead of “boys and girls,” “people” instead of “women and men,” “siblings” or “kindred,” or “brothers and sisters and siblings of all genders” instead of “brothers and sisters”).


--Expand the ways that sexual orientation is understood and discussed in your circle of influence beyond the idea that sexual orientation is a born-in, static trait. Although many people believe themselves to have been born lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or straight, others experience sexuality as fluid and changing throughout their lifetime. Honor this diversity of experience through the ways you talk and teach about sexual orientation.


--Do continuing education among your friends and colleagues on bisexual and queer issues.


--Queerness is often located at the margins. Consider how your group or organization’s welcome, advocacy, and service around LGBTQ issues can be more grounded in the experiences and needs of those who are most marginalized, such as queer and trans youth, queer and trans people of color, and undocumented queer and trans immigrants.


[Source: Unitarian Universalist Church]



The Queer Umbrella

How broad is the Queer umbrella? What sexual minorities should be included under the Queer umbrella? Is the Queer community represented by more than just sexual orientation and gender identity? What about lifestyles? Should the kink/leather community be included? Should asexuals be included? Should the poly community be included? Should intersex people be included?


I Don't Do Boxes: The Queer Umbrella

Orientation and Identity Under One Queer Umbrella

Farrago Mag: The Queer Umbrella

Video: The Queer Umbrella

Should BDSM be Included Under the LGBTQ Umbrella?

Does Asexuality Fall Under the Queer Umbrella?

Polyamory is Not Necessarily Queer



QUEER CAFE │ LGBTQ Information Network │ Established 2017