“Queer” language can certainly seem a bit strange to those who are unfamiliar with it. The lengthy acronym “LGBTQQ2SIA”, often used to describe these communities, is a stumbling block for some. Many in LGBTQ+ communities have reclaimed the formerly offensive word “queer,” turning it into a word that celebrates LGBTQ+ perspectives and ways of being. To complicate matters further, many gender-non-conforming people have pronouns that seem tricky, like “they” or “ze.” Some people outside of these communities may feel that this language is daunting, perhaps even too complicated to understand. In response, I would like to take this opportunity to clear up some questions about “queer” language.
So, what does “LGBTQQ2SIA” mean, anyway? It means “value and cherish your neighbour.”
While I could go into a lengthy exposition of the meanings of “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “queer,” “transgender,” “gender-fluid,” “Two-Spirit” and the myriad of other identities that make up LGBTQ+ communities, I think it is more valuable to talk about what a beautiful act of love and recognition it is to use the terms people use for themselves. The identities, orientations, communities and cultures included in that long acronym are complex and beautiful. There are many helpful resources online designed to give new initiates to the world of queer-language a better understanding of who queer people are and why they use those identifying terms. We should use these resources to learn more, but as Christians we have more to offer LGBTQ people than just our newfound knowledge. The LGBTQ community is accustomed to being hurt by words, but what if we used our words for healing?
One of the things I’ve recently been struck by in the Gospels is Jesus’ teaching on being a “neighbour.” When Jesus taught his followers that they should love their neighbours, a clever scholar asked him, “And who is my neighbour?”
Jesus’ followers knew they were supposed to love their neighbour; it’s just that they had a pretty narrow view of who their neighbour was. Maybe, they thought, neighbours were people who shared their language and culture. Maybe neighbours were people who looked like them. But neighbours were not foreigners and certainly not Samaritans. Jesus’ followers were quite confident that they did not need to be neighbourly with those people. But our Redeemer Jesus teaches something different.
The people you meet? They are all your neighbours; the outcast is your neighbour; the Samaritan is your neighbour. And being a neighbour is a serious call.
When we encounter someone who is quite different from ourselves, we are encountering a new neighbour. LGBTQ+ people are our neighbours, in every sense of the word. When we take the time to learn validating language, to use the pronouns that each person prefers, to meet people and listen to who they are with love and gentleness of heart, we are loving our LGBTQ+ neighbours.
The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, the tax-collector. When Zacchaeus is on the outskirts of a fervent crowd, up in the branches of a tree, Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the tree and into his story. Jesus brings Zacchaeus in, by calling him by name. When we see our LGBTQ+ neighbours for who they are, and call out to our neighbours by name, we recognize that God is calling them into his story, just as he called Zacchaeus the tax-collector down from the tree.
Not everyone has an identity that falls into the rainbow of LGBTQ+, but each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made, with complex, faceted identities. How wonderful then, that God sees each of us in our myriad identities, calls us by name and brings us into his story. Wherever you are in your journey of meeting and loving your LGBTQ+ neighbours, God has blessed you with the capacity to heal and love through your words.