Why Does Language Matter So Much?

Within the LGBTQ+ community, words matter. Profoundly so. And supportive leaders and allies need to understand this and speak accordingly. Thoughtful language shows respect, acknowledgment, and acceptance. This means using a person’s authentic name over their birth name. It might mean using different pronouns for a young person than the ones they were given as a child.

These changes are not mere technicalities. And no one chooses to change their name or pronouns to be a burden on others. Instead, this is about a queer person striving for an authentic life. Hearing these words from someone they trust is incredibly powerful. Conversely, using incorrect language will feel insensitive and hurtful, whether it’s done on purpose or not. Making passing remarks or jokes about queer people, repeatedly forgetting to use a person’s pronouns, using someone’s previous name instead of their real name – these things aren’t harmless mistakes. They speak volumes about the value you place (or don’t place) on a queer person’s identity.

We get that this is new territory for many people and that even the most well-meaning among us will use the wrong words now and then. But even when people don’t intend to be cruel, making excuses for being less than intentional with

 words can add to the pain it causes. Those excuses tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Avoidance (“I’m never going to say anything because I’ll get it wrong.”)
  2. Defensiveness (“This is hard to remember; they should be more understanding!”)
  3. Defiance (“I’ll say what I want; it’s just words.”)

What do these excuses have in common? They are all about you, the adult in power, and not the vulnerable kid seeking affirmation. When you get the language wrong (and you will – that’s okay), just say you’re sorry and acknowledge your desire to get this right. 

From “Welcoming and Affirming: A Guide to Supporting and Working with LGBTQ+ Christian Youth” by Leigh Finke – Broadleaf Books