Gay Man Says Millennial Term 'Queer' Is Like the 'N' Word

Colorado College embraces new umbrella group LGBTIQA.

November 12, 2013, 3:42 PM
PHOTO: John Kichi, a gay professional from Pennsylvania, said he is "appalled" by modern use of the word, "queer."
John Kichi, a gay professional from Pennsylvania, said he is "appalled" by modern use of the word, "queer."
Courtesy John Kichi

Nov. 12, 1013—, 2013 -- John Kichi, a 66-year-old writer and marketing expert in Sewickley, Pa., recalled how decades ago he was thrown out of an apartment and later lost a prestigious job because he was gay.

So when he began an online application for a job at Colorado College recently, he was shocked by a question that asked applicants to check one of five genders: "not disclosed," "male," "female," "transgender" -- or "queer."

"It would be like if they put down for race: 'white,' 'Latino,' 'black' and then the 'N' word,'" Kichi told "Every one of my gay friends is appalled by this. This is something I had never seen before."

Kichi said he had filed a complaint with the Colorado Attorney General's Office and will soon do so with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"I think queer harkens back to a time when being gay was a documented medical abnormality," he said. "Queer is also not a gender, and if you want to list sexual orientation, that's even more egregious. To me, this was an attempt by the university to scare away anyone who wasn't straight."

The progressive college, nestled against the Rocky Mountains in conservative Colorado Springs, said it "absolutely" understands why Kichi might be upset, but times have changed.

Today, young people who don't fall into "binary" roles such as male or female or gay or straight are embracing a new identity -- LGBTIQA, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or asexual, said Brett Gray, the LGBTIQA specialist at Colorado College.

And according to an article published earlier this year in The New York Times, even more semantic distinctions come with the "Q," for questioning, or "A" for ally of those who are LGBTIQA.

"It's generational," said Gray. "We understand 'queer' is a charged term, but ever since the 1990s, it has been reclaimed by many," he said.

Many liberal arts colleges have adapted the phrase "queer studies" to define their broader gender studies programs, and have created "queer" resource programs. This fall, the University of Pennsylvania held a Queer Method Conference.

The controversy underscores the ever-changing language of those who say they are not "cisgender" -- a term that applies to those whose gender identity matches their biology.

Kichi's complaints have sparked a conversation at the college and an opportunity to educate the community, said Gray. "We want to get the word out on where we are coming from and what our intentions are."

Colorado College states on its website that it does not "discriminate on the basis of color, national origin, gender, sex, age, religion, gender identity, gender expression, disability or sexual orientation" in its employment practices.

But what confuses Kichi is why a college that says it does not discriminate would even ask potential applicants about their gender or sexual orientation.

But, Gray said, filling out the descriptive boxes is voluntary.

"When someone is applying, we are as welcoming and inclusive as possible," he said. "We are committed to a diverse work force and with the information optionally given, we have a better idea of our application pool."

Jesse Paul, editor of the Colorado College newspaper, said LGBTIQA students are comfortable with the term "queer."

"Most people here generally think it's a positive environment and accept the word broadly as not an offensive term in any way," he said.

Paul wrote about the controversy in The Catalyst, the independent Colorado College newspaper, but said for the most part the community was unfazed. "They didn't know about it or weren't interested."

Reina Gossett, a 30-year-old transgender woman who identifies as "queer," said the term is "political" and has a "legacy of resistance."

"There is a long history of people who identified on the margins of culture," she said. "It's about naming a lineage of people who are gender outlaws and didn't fit into normative ideas about what it means to be gay or lesbian. It's a way to subvert the idea that we should all be normal. That being like everyone else is a good thing."

Gossett works with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which assists low-income transgender communities, providing legal services and education.

Sylvia Rivera was a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, and fought against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York. She died in 2002.

In the early days of the gay pride movement, those who self-identified as "drag queens" and "transvestites" were "tossed aside" by middle-class professionals, said Gossett.

"She was literally kicked off the stage in a gay pride rally in 1973," she said. Gossett said calling herself queer is a way to be "part of a larger movement."

But John Kichi is sticking to his guns about the connotation of "queer."

"The current generation of 20-somethings may be kicking the word around and having fun with it, but it's not a gender," said Kichi. "I didn't fight the fight to get as far as we are today."

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