Why ‘Lesbians Who Tech’ vs. ‘Queer Women Who Tech’

The great debate between using ‘lesbian’ or ‘queer’ to describe LGBTQ women and why it matters so fucking much.

First, I want to acknowledge words matter. They have and always will have more weight than we often realize. I’m reminded of this today, more than ever, since we live in a country where we elected a man who says things like,

“I Think Everyone Can Agree Rosie O’Donnell 
Deserved to Be Called a Fat Pig.”

WTF? (Rosie, we ❤ you.)

This man has also said derogatory and demeaning things about women, Muslims, immigrants…the list goes on and on. And these words matter. They matter to me, to the women in our nation, to our youth. These words impact people in big and small ways.

And while the choice between using the word ‘lesbian’ vs. ‘queer’ (or even the word women) isn’t the same type of discussion, I know these words (and all the words we choose) have impacts both big and small on LGBTQ women, the LGBTQ community, and our allies.

First and most importantly, let’s talk about the goal of Lesbians Who Tech + Allies. This queer, inclusive, and badass community of queer women and gender nonconforming people in tech, and the people who love us. (They love us so much they read our run-on sentences.)

From our start, the goal of Lesbians Who Tech has been to provide value to LGBTQ women in technology. We do that by building community, increasing our visibility, and increasing the pipeline of LGBTQ women in tech. But after four years of organizing a gender-aware community, it’s obviously become clear to me that the power of queer women and gender nonconforming people are intimately linked. That’s why over time we’ve come to use more inclusive language to paint a respectful and reflective picture of the diversity of our people.

Over the course of this evolution, I have probably spent hundreds of hours contemplating, discussing and debating the question of ‘lesbian’ vs ‘queer’ and written hundreds of emails to passionate Lesbians Who Tech members who disagreed with the name and wanted us to change it to a name they felt was more inclusive.

I’m proud of every hour of these dialogues. Proud, despite the exasperation. Proud that people care enough about this community to wrestle about these contentious, imperfect words.

Below, I’ll share the email I shared with folks in 2014, when Lesbians Who Tech was in its infancy.

But before I share that, I want to say this: I 100% believe Lesbians Who Tech’s growth is strongly correlated to our name. Lesbians Who Tech.

It’s clear. It’s sticky. It’s memorable, and it evokes emotion–albeit sometimes discomfort. In a nutshell, it’s accessible. Despite the magnificent inadequacies.

At first, I intentionally chose the name because I wanted to reclaim the word lesbian, make it cooler. (Yes, the word skews older, less hip, more white, and more small town.) And generally (because this is a generalization), younger, more hip, self-labeled ‘queers’ do not identity with such a stale and stiff word.

Let’s be real. *I* don’t even love the word! It’s long, has way too many syllables, and sounds more like a disease than an identity! Lesbian.

But, it’s the only single world in the English language that means both gay and female. And it’s our word, goddammit. The word Lesbian is queer. Which is, you know, so gay.

So here’s the old email. If you’ve been in the community for a while, you may have your own copy in your inbox. If you do, it means you helped build this community.

Thank You.

* * *
Dear _________ ,
Thank you so much for your feedback. Please know, this is something I do not take lightly, and I am 100% open to discussing, debating and revisiting the name of our community.
When thinking about the name there’s a few things I’d love you to consider:
Queer used to be derogatory term. Generally, I find older LGBTQ women do not like the word ‘queer’ because it used to have very negative connotations. Unless you live in Brooklyn or ‘The Bay,’ i.e. geography matters in whether or not you describe yourself as lesbian or queer.
A lot of allies do not understand the word queer. I’ve spent more conversations than I can count explaining what queer means.
The word, “lesbian” is dying and we use it less and less. Why? LGBTQ women opt of “lesbian” for a more inclusive acronym or ‘queer.’ However, that means that the word ‘lesbian’ is literally being used less and less.
LGBTQ women fought to have a word that means being both gay and female. The history of our movement has historically been not only male, but sexist. The history of the feminist movement hasn’t exactly been inclusive of lesbians. It’s important to honor the word lesbian.
Lesbian spaces are dying. Literally, they are going going out of business. There have always been fewer lesbian bars than gay bars, fewer lesbian blogs, than LGBTQ blogs (which are basically led and for gay men) and we continue to see lesbian nights end and lesbian bars become something else, i.e. die.
Acronyms are not great from a branding perspective. Our name is very clear and people understand what and who are very quickly.
I’ve failed to think of a name that both honors the word lesbian, our history and simultaneously be inclusive. Instead I’ve opted for using both lesbian and queer in everything we do, always.
I am open to other ideas. Big and small.
We not only use both terms everywhere, but we are committed to making sure transgender and bi-sexual women are represented.
I know this is not a perfect solution and we are open to new ways to make people feel included.
Does calling the organization this mean we are excluding people?
With love and respect,
Like what you read? Give Leanne Pittsford a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.