Language and ideas are constantly changing. By engaging in ongoing processes of change and by questioning the way we may have always done things in the past, we remain relevant and effective in meeting people’s needs. What might have been ‘getting it right’ a year ago might no longer address the needs of our populations. One way we try to stay at the forefront of new insights and advances in ‘the LGBTI sector’ is by regularly asking questions of ourselves and of the people with whom we work.
When we use ‘LGBTI’, we engage in ongoing reflection that often involves the following questions:
- History: How has the language we are using developed and changed over time? What influences does it have? Are these influences helpful or problematic?
- Diversity within diversity: To which population within ‘LGBTI’ does a particular topic apply? What are the different community wisdoms, challenges, and insights that each population with ‘LGBTI’ has to share on a particular topic?
- Deliberateness: How can we make sure that we move from habitually using all five letters to earning each of them? Is it appropriate to use all five letters or does the topic we are discussing apply more specifically only to some of these populations and need rethinking for some populations? Are there content areas we need to add to make sure we mean the letters we are using
- Community character: What does each community share in common? What makes them distinct from each other? Where can we go to find out about the multiple views and perspectives within each group?
- Limitations: How might the use of ‘LGBTI’ limit our ability to address an issue that is particularly important for a particular population but not necessarily a major concern for the other four letters? Whose voices are missing from the ‘LGBTI’ lens? How can we broaden our view to make sure we know what is missing and how to expand the frame? Which additional aspects of ‘LGBTI’ people’s lives can get lost in the talk of broad categories? What can we do to address this concern?
- Efficiency: ‘LGBTI’ is currently in popular use amongst the general population and government. When used in a nuanced and careful way, it can be very effective at helping people to better understand and meet our needs. How can we be brief and clear while making sure that key details are conveyed?
- Identity vs. Experience vs. Characteristics: There are important differences between a person’s identity (that is, how they describe themselves), the experiences that they have, and the characteristics they might have (like brown hair, green eyes, or a soft voice). The ‘LGBTI’ acronym brings together a combination of these aspects. How can we work with, across, and beyond identity labels in ways that make people and communities feel heard and understood? How can we make sure that information we collect distinguishes between these dimensions? How can we respond effectively to the challenge of meeting people’s needs, when these dimensions are often treated as identical in legislation and policy?
- Intersections: Communities can overlap and do not exist in isolation. Which overlaps do we need to consider when addressing a particular issue? Which communities do we need to put in contact with each other for a meaningful purpose?
We invite you to share your wisdom, questions, and ideas about this material through our Open Alliance portal