Pride @ SOAS

LGBTQ+ Network renamed amid ‘Queer’ controversy

Will Durrant, BA History

I hate the word due to past homophobic abuse, so cringe every time I see it and never use it to describe myself.

Students in the Queer Network, voted “overwhelmingly” to change the group’s name to Pride @ SOAS in an online poll. This result comes after some debate internationally and on campus around the use of the word queer as a marker of gender or sexual identity.

The debate around the term queer is generally focused on its historical derogatory connotations. Some prominent LGBTQ+ figures argue that the term should be “reclaimed” by people with ‘non-normative’ gender and sexual identities.

Amrou al-Kadhi, a performer and drag queen whose work was recently featured in a Hayward Gallery exhibition, argued earlier this year that “queer means constantly pushing the limits of everything about me; who I’m attracted to, what my identity is, how I act in spaces. I see being queer as a constant challenge in everything I know, so nothing ever really feels fixed for me, and when it does feel fixed then I don’t trust it.”

UK Black Pride’s Strategic Officer Chloe Davies also argued: ‘words are meaningful and they hold weight, and whilst respecting what the word once meant, being queer feels like I have a super power. I am inspired not only to be my authentic self but also my best self, in life, work, as a mother/parent, as a partner and also as a friend.’

But some SOAS students believe that queer remains a homophobic slur, with one SOASk Me Out user saying: “I feel like it’s basically impossible to find any solidarity with other gay people [at SOAS] without having to join a group with queer in the title – I hate the word due to past homophobic abuse, so cringe every time I see it and never use it to describe myself. I wish the uni would stick to what they were good at, without imposing poorly thought-out and flimsy conceptions of gender and sexuality on others.”

A commenter added: ‘It’s helpful in many ways because [queer] can in theory include everyone without needing an incredibly long acronym, but … it is still viewed as a slur, meaning it can actually exclude people.’

On the group’s original title, ‘SOAS Queer Network,’ Hasan Zakria, SOAS Union’s LGBTQIA+ Officer told us that queer often ‘encompasses all elements of the [LGBTQ+] acronym… without the need to get into specifics regarding one’s gender identity and sexual or romantic orientation. Furthermore, due to the lack of POC visibility and representation in most LGBTQIA+ spaces, as well as the issue of racism, the acronym for me was closely associated with white gays. Hence, as a person of colour, the acronym did not evoke a sense of inclusivity; the predominant use of the label queer in many spaces centring and prioritising people of colour felt much more comfortable as a means to self-identify.’

When concerns were raised, however, the group was renamed: ‘Some members felt uncomfortable, with one member [saying] that they found it impossible to find solidarity with other gay people with that word, although the word queer has very much been reclaimed in recent decades by the community. Additionally, in recent decades it appears that ‘gay’ has become the slur against our community; I think we all heard ‘That’s so gay’ in schools. For many it can be quite triggering, hence the need to remove specifics when it comes to identification.  The decision was taken to create a poll to choose a new name, and … a clear winner emerged – ‘Pride @ SOAS’ – which I believe again reflects the desire to choose a name which does not involve specific markers of identification and ensure inclusivity.’

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