With little fanfare, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force changed its name to the National LGBTQ Task Force last week. In an op-ed for The Advocate, director Rea Carey wrote:
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is changing its name and upping its game to tear down any remaining barriers to full freedom, justice, and equality for all LBGTQ people. We want to create a world where you can be you, without barriers. Our new name is the “National LGBTQ Task Force,” our tagline is “Be you,” and our vision is a society that values and respects the diversity of human expression and identity and achieves freedom and equity for all.
The Task Force began as the National Gay Task Force in 1973 and added lesbian to its title in 1985. After decades of pushing for a more inclusive name from bisexual and trans activists, it has officially incorporated the B, T and Q. It’s great to see a major organization embracing more people in the rainbow in its name. But the timing and manner of the name change leave me a bit cynical.
In recent years, the Task Force has increased its efforts to work on behalf of bi and trans folks. In 1997, it updated its mission statement to include those groups, and a look at its campaigns, events and reports in recent years demonstrates a growing diversity in its programs. Hopefully this new name will precede even stronger efforts on behalf of more parts of the complex and beautiful community we are part of. Mark Daley, a spokesman for the group, says he fully anticipates that the community will continue to define itself with new letters and names.
“Regardless of which letter you identify with, whether it’s used today or has not been invented yet, we include you in our work,” Daley said. “And we want to do more for everyone who belongs to our community.”
It would have been powerful to see the Task Force get ahead of the political curve with its naming and mission. Instead, its name change coincides with a political and cultural moment when transgender and bisexual people have seen a burst in acceptance and success in achieving policy needs and when “queer” has gained acceptance, at least in some circles, as both an identifier and a blanket term. In the last few years, bi, trans and queer people have made extraordinary efforts to pursue their goals, often without the support of mainstream gay and lesbian groups like the Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign. Nominally supporting bi, trans and queer people has gone mainstream, but those groups haven’t seen substantial increases in funding and political action. Instead, national organizations often promote statistics about the crisis facing bi and trans people without always supporting those groups and their work.
More promising than the name change is the corresponding announcement that the group will increase its focus on topics like anti-queer and -trans violence and employment and housing discrimination. The Task Force should also turn its attention to problems like mass incarceration, police violence, institutional racism and homelessness that disproportionately harm queer people. The group’s future actions and inclusivity will speak much louder than its name, said bisexual activist Lynnette McFadzen, the creator of the BiCast. The Task Force has a history of excluding bi and trans needs from its programs, though it’s improved in recent years, she said.
“The real issue isn’t their name, it’s their conduct, and that’s something they need to work on,” McFadzen said. “If they conducted themselves as an inclusive task force, that would be great. I’m not concerned about the alphabet soup.”
The organization’s upcoming programs include several trans specific initiatives, including a campaign to protest violence against trans people using the hashtag #StopTransMurders. But they still have work to do. The organization left the bi community stunned when it published an piece from one of its staff members called “Bye Bye Bi, Hello Queer” on Celebrate Bisexuality Day. The article called for a rejection of the term bisexuality based on outdated definitions of the term that enforce a binary understanding that the bi community itself doesn’t use. The Task Force also published a positive article about bisexuality on the same day, and it later published a counter article from trans and bi writer Aud Traher. Weeks later, it took the offensive post down and posted a brief apology.
The complexity of our community makes it hard for us to be 100 percent inclusive all the time with our work and language. At Autostraddle, we sometimes default to LGBT, queer or gay because we’re working with a language that doesn’t actively create space for all our experiences. We also work to be inclusive of everyone’s stories and examine our own biases and failures to do better. I hope to see the same efforts from national organizations like the Task Force so that their organizing, writing and political work celebrate and advance every part of our community and family.