Naming Your LGBTQ Organization

my name is sticker queer lgbtqAre you starting a new gay/straight alliance or queer student group at your school?  Are you looking for a new, inclusive, catchy name for your student organization?  A name can be an important indicator of what type of group it is, the message group members wish to convey, and who will be interested in your organization.

Naming your group can be both fun and challenging. At some colleges and universities, there are few restrictions on what a student group is called.  There are, however, some campuses that are more conservative, where some names/words/phrases would not be encouraged, or even allowed.  Gonzaga University is a small, Catholic school in Spokane, WA.  Philip wrote to tell us that, when their student organization was forming, they were not allowed to use the words “gay” or “homosexual” (“the Trustees of the University would have been shocked to learn that gay students actually existed at Gonzaga”).  Students chose the name H.E.R.O. (Helping to Educate Regarding Orientation).  Since the days when the group was forming, Gonzaga has become less conservative, but Philip says that folks are reluctant to change the name of HERO because students know what the group stands for, they also like the fact that “education” is in the title.  Now, when they advertise, they proudly display “HERO: Gonzaga’s Gay-Straight Alliance.”

The so-called, ‘alphabet soup’ method of naming student groups or resource programs, is also popular on many campuses.  This is one way of indicating an inclusive group.  Arizona State University is the home of the LGBTQ Coalition.  This coalition, formerly called the Lambda League, is an umbrella for a number of other campus groups working to meet the varied needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning population.  Some of the sub-groups at ASU are: Act Out, a political advocacy group; Sappho, the lesbian and bisexual women’s group; and Gay Straight Whatever Alliance, a group that reaches out to the straight community on campus.

Bringing pride to a campus LGBTQ community is one of the common denominators in our student organizations, and also a common choice for a student group name.  The Keeweenaw Pride group at Michigan Technological University (named for the Michigan peninsula on which the school is located) and Pace University – Westchester’s Pride Coalition are two such examples.  In the same vein, the student organization at DePauw University uses the name United DePauw.  The lambda symbol, adopted by the LGBTQ community as a symbol of pride, is also featured in the names of many groups.  Nic, president of the Lambda Student Union at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, says the lambda symbol represents the “community as a sign of equality and human rights.”

Alliances are also found on many campuses.  At the University of Southern Maine, the student organization is the Alliance for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.  Some schools have Gay-Straight Alliances, Pride Alliances and Rainbow Alliances.  The University of Maine at Farmington has a group called the Rainbow Education Alliance of Diverse Individuals, or READI.

Clever acronyms are widely used in many parts of the country.  Montclair State University in New Jersey has a student organization called SPECTRUMS, which stands for Sexuality, Pride, Education, Truth, Respect and Unity at Montclair State.  Melynda Davis, Coordinator of Residence Education at Roger Williams University, wrote to share information about the SAFE student group she works with.  SAFE stands for Sexuality Advocacy for Everyone, though students are considering changing the name to Sexuality Alliance for everyone, as all people are born with a sexuality in one form or another.  Paul, vice president of the Southwest Minnesota State University group OQS (Out, Questioning, Straight), explains that they “chose the acronym instead of a more traditional name, making the effort to appeal to everyone and anyone on campus who wants to be, or feel they already are, an ally of the LGBTQ community.  One more example is SAGE (Straights and Gays for Equality), the student group at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

Queer is both a catchall term and one that is fraught with controversy on some campuses.  Many activists and student leaders use ‘queer’ to represent our entire community, it is seen as a one-word, inclusive concept.  Yet some people don’t like the in-your-face nature of the word.  The folks at Williams College named their group the Queer Student Union after they went through many previous incarnations (Gay Student Alliance, Gay Lesbian Student Alliance, Bisexual Gay Lesbian Student Alliance, etc.).  Stephen Collingsworth, Queer Issues Coordinator at Williams, says, “we figure anyone who calls into question gender norms and norms surrounding issues of sexuality in general can be called queer.”

Queers and Allies (Q&A) is the name of the group at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  Chad tells us they chose the name for two reasons.  The first is that they are made up of a group f queers and allies, and secondly, they like the Q&A aspect of the name.  They put an emphasis on asking questions and answering them, not only of group members, but also of the larger university.  The University of California at Santa Barbara also uses the word queer in its various group names, including Q Grad, for graduate students, QPOC (Queer People of Color).  Kyle from UCSB says that queer was chosen for its inclusiveness, but he has noticed that some students who are just coming out, or who do not define themselves as ‘political’ do not feel comfortable with the queer label.

Some other examples of student group names are:  Edgewood College’s Friends Like Us and the Lavender Bridge at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota.  Anne Phibbs, Director of LGBT Student Services at Metropolitan says the concept of the bridge in the group’s name makes it feel “accessible and open, which is what the group strives for.”  Amanda from MacMurray College in Illinois shared that their student group, Solace: Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Allies for Diversity, uses the name to convey a safe, calming space.  Solace provides “a space to be yourself, whoever that may be.”  And Prism has this message, according to Jason, York College of PA student and president of Prism:  “We are just like everyone else, but when you shine a light on us (discover what we are about) one can see how beautiful, diverse, and multi-faceted we are.”

There are also a few examples of college and university employee group names out there.  Montclair State University has GLFSA (Gay and Lesbian Faculty and Staff Association) [who made this little Maine girl feel very welcome while she was in New Jersey], Ohio University has GLOBE (Gay Lesbian Or Bisexual Employees), and the faculty and staff at Arizona State University can be a part of their group, Ubiquity.

And how do groups come up with their names?  Here is one suggestion that allows for lots of input, and some visibility on campus:  Bryan Helminiak, currently a Resident Director at Ohio University, was an undergrad at Michigan Technological University when students chose the name Keeweenaw Pride.  They held a campus-wide naming contest and students were able to choose the name they liked best or suggest different names.  Bryan says that the “naming contest idea was very positive and, if they are a group that can laugh at some of the more interesting names, I highly recommend it!”

What’s in a name?  It’s your decision.

Source: Campus Pride, 2012

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