Guardian reader letter telling queer people not to use ‘Q word’ sparks ferocious debate

Headline from The Guardian newspaper

A letter published in The Guardian has criticised the use of the word ‘queer’ and LGBTQ+ people have spoken – to say we’re here and we’re most certainly queer.

The legacy media publication shared the message from a 66-year-old Karl Lockwood on Friday (13 January) in its section of letters sent in by readers.

In response to the England and Wales census – which revealed that 15,000 of the 1.5 million non-heterosexual people in the regions refer to themselves as queer – the openly gay Brighton resident wrote that he found the word to be “derogatory.”

“I suspect that many of the others, like me, consider the term to be insulting… and certainly not ‘reclaimed,” he added.

Lockwood then went on to accuse activists of having “encouraged the media” to use the word to label the LGBTQ+ community, even comparing it to “the N-word.”

“It would seem a small minority of activists has encouraged the media to use the word without considering its offensiveness to many people. You wouldn’t use the N-word, so don’t use the Q-word.”

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The published letter was met with almost unanimous criticism by queer people – and people who use and celebrate the word – who both lambasted the notion that queer is still a dirty word despite a long history of reclamation by LGBTQ+ civil rights groups.

“I’m pretty sure that the popular chant at Pride events and political protests back in the 80s and 90s wasn’t, ‘We’re here, we’re Q-word, get used to it,'” a disgruntled Twitter user wrote.

“The people allowed to reclaim a slur are those it was aimed at,” another pointed out. “15,000 people felt it worked for them, Karl doesn’t get to police that.”

Others expressed their shock at Lockwood’s comparison of “the Q-word” to “the N-word”, despite the blatant differences between their usage.

“Tell me you’re a privileged, white gay without telling me you’re a privileged white gay,” one user wrote.

“Sir, you used queer twice in your letter before choosing to initialise it so you could compare it to a word so bad you wouldn’t type it out once.”

Queer woman responds to queer letter criticising the word queer, and it’s very queer

The following day, the newspaper published a swift rebuttal to the original letter, which urged Karl to “accept that the word, and the world, has moved on.”

Emma Joliffe of St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, wrote that the descriptive use of the word had shifted drastically over the past few decades, being used by activists to “signify our Pride.”

The self-proclaimed queer woman wrote: “Karl Lockwood was born in the late 1950s. He would have come of age with the gay rights movement, through the decriminalisation of homosexuality, towards gay power.

“‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it’ was, of course, a well-known chant. ‘Queer’ has been reclaimed by members of our community since the 1970s.”

Joliffe went on to explain that it was unfortunate that the word “clearly still holds some pain and distress” for Lockwood, while the community uses it for “power and resistance.”

“Rather than policing the terms used by others – especially considering that, for millennials, the word they were more likely to hear as a term of abuse was ‘gay’ in the early 00s – perhaps Karl should accept that the word, and the world, has moved on.”