LGBTQIA: The Folks Beyond the Letters

Towards the end of high school, I began to understand my sexuality as non-heteronormative. I have never felt the need to “come out,” rather, if anyone brings it up, I explain how I describe my sexuality outright. Which is why I was caught off guard when last quarter, one of my friends asked me point-blank, “So tell me what it’s like being asexual.”

I am not asexual. How could my friend jump to the conclusion that I am? After some further investigation, I realized my friend meant to ask what it was like to be queer. He did not know the difference between being queer and asexual, which I was happy to clarify for him. However, this mix-up did trouble me.

If my friend who identifies as gay could transpose these different terms then how easily do cisgender, heterosexuals confuse the members of the LGBTQIA community?

Barely 20 years ago, the acronym was commonly LGB, with the “T” added shortly after, and only in the last few years have the “I” and the “A” entered popular terminology. To those not in the community, this continuous addition of letters may seem overwhelming. Here’s how we break it down:

Lesbians are female homosexuals; gay means male homosexuals. Bisexual means someone who like both men and women … Transgender applies to someone assigned one sex at birth but who identifies as a different sex. “Q” can refer to anyone questioning their sexuality, or it can also mean queer, an umbrella term describing a person who broadly identifies as not straight. Intersex is for anyone whose gender is mixed, fluid, non-binary. And asexuality describes people who do not desire sex at all.

But the letters following “L” and “G” are shadowed in mass media and the popular campaigns to promote equal rights. And too many times, this lack of awareness leads to fatal results.

Think of Leelah Alcorn, who on Dec. 29 stepped in front of a moving truck on an Ohio highway, killing herself as a result of a lifetime of harassment from her parents; parents who refused to accept her identity as a girl. Parents who could not love a daughter, instead claiming they lost their son.

When we regard people as letters in an acronym, it is easy to forget that each letter represents a person. A person with a spirit and a life and a smile and dreams and the desire to be loved, like Leelah. Not a statistic, nor an abbreviation. Acronyms like LGBTQIA serve an importance by including an underrepresented portion of the population in a discussion of human rights. However,  the line between letters and people can blur over time, especially if we do not take the time to understand what each letter means. Yes, it can get muddled, and yes, it may feel inconvenient at times. But it is vital; representation and acceptance is a right.

Unfortunately, Leelah Alcorn is not an anomaly. In fact, a teen member of the LGBTQIA community is eight times more likely to attempt suicide as a result of bullying than other youths. In America, 41 percent of transgender people in America will attempt suicide because of discrimination. And in 2012, 53 percent of anti-LGBTQIA hate crimes were against transgender women, with 73 percent of those crimes against transgender people of color. While the nation has made brilliant strides in marriage equality for the LGB community recently — with now 36 states, including Washington D.C., legalizing same-sex marriage in the last 10 years — laws protecting transgender and other identities are not making front page news. Only 18 states have anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender people, but this issue has never reached the Supreme Court rendering no national legislation protecting transgender citizens. National forums need to discuss rights for the entire LGBTQIA community, beyond the right to marry, to properly ensure the right to live.

Anteaters can do their part in championing equality on campus as well. UCI has an LGBT Resource Center, with dozens of activities and meetings planned every quarter to help create a comfortable environment to discuss issues. LGBTQIA Anteaters need to leave a mark at UCI, to reach out beyond this confines of campus and generate resources throughout Orange County. We need to be as present as our Greek Life, as beloved as our dance crews and as supported as our sports teams. First, however, we need to take pride in ourselves and not fear having a voice.

2015 should bring with it even more change, acceptance, resources and love. Just because the calendar is different does not mean we can forget all of the injustices of 2014, all of the lives lost. Make 2015 the year in which LGBTQIA are not just a jumble of letters; they are people. And these people’s lives matter. They are not just statistics in a year-end tragedy report.

Savannah Peykani is a second-year English major. She can be reached at speykani@uci.edu.