by Rick Claggett
(Rick Claggett is the publisher of Watermark, based in Orlando, Fla. This commentary originally appeared in the May 30, 2019, issue of Watermark.)
Hi! My name is Rick and I am queer.
How does that make you feel? Does the word queer invoke anger or fear? Or is it something you embrace? Is this a generational question?
I understand and respect completely that the word queer is a trigger for some. I vividly remember being asked if I was queer when I was younger. It was usually accompanied by some snarl-faced look that let me know being queer was not a good thing in their eyes. Not knowing what queer meant, I would answer no, which would result in my gender being questioned or chased around the playground. By the time I was called “as queer as a three dollar bill,” I knew what they were saying.
|Watermark’s Rick Claggett
It was more than 30 years ago so my memories might be a little hazy, but I don’t remember being crushed by the word. I have definitely been called worse. Let’s be real, my last name is Claggett, pronounced kla-git. Now go ahead and sing it in the “Name Game.” My brothers and I are certainly no strangers to being called the “F” word.
For me it was different, obviously, as I am gay. Yet again, I don’t remember it bothering me so much. In fact, I got to the point where someone would yell “faggot” and I would retort, “Yeah, so what?” That usually shut them up. Although, I realize it wasn’t as easy for others, so I’ll just refer to it as the “F” word from now on.
Watermark Film Company is currently working on the documentary, “Greetings From Queertown: Orlando.” The goal is to follow the path of Central Florida’s LGBTQ history. We will detail the evolution of LGBTQ rights through politics, HIV/AIDS, Pride and entertainment, highlighting the struggles and heroes who built our community and made it possible for us to weather unthinkable tragedy. We have to talk about how bad it was to understand how good it is. That is how I feel about the word queer.
When I was in school in the ‘80s and ‘90s, queer was a derogatory term. What made it derogatory was the intent of the user. Much like how acceptance of the LGBTQ community has evolved, so has acceptance of the word queer by the LGBTQ community. It seems fitting to use queer in the title of the upcoming documentary because, like the community, the word queer started out as a negative connotation and transformed into something that is representative of a diverse and inclusive world.
In my last column of 2018, I asked for the conversation to begin for us to change how we refer to our community. Too many people in our community do not identify with L, G, B or T. I used to jokingly say that we added Q to stand for Queverybody, but the truth is everybody is not represented by LGBTQ. The only way to make sure our alphabet soup is all inclusive is to make it 26 letters.
I recently attended the annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast put on by The LGBT+ Center. A prominent ally mentioned — and I am paraphrasing — that she always felt the word “ally” described someone who was not part of a group, but supported the members from the outside. It made me take a step back and think. Our allies shouldn’t feel like they are not 100 percent members of our community, and they should be able to claim name to our existence.
My roommate just bought a rainbow magic band, rainbow T-shirt and a string of rainbow lights to wear at RED Shirt Pride Day at the Magic Kingdom. That cisgender, heterosexual ally is completely part of this queer community.
This is my official pitch that we adopt the word queer and an all-inclusive way to join our cisgender, non-binary, allied, L, G , B and T family. The word is weathered, tested, evolved and strong. It speaks to how our community fought and how we were defined to become what we are today. It speaks to the strength and love we have for each other, and it speaks to our diversity.
Still don’t like queer? Then start a conversation about another word. Let’s cut ourselves a break from having to stumble through the words “LGBTQ community” when speaking in public.