Why Lena Waithe's 'LGBQTIA' shout-out at the Emmys thrilled many but confused some

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor

Lena Waithe is best known for playing Denise, the lovable, low-key lesbian yin to Aziz Ansari’s yang on Master of None. But she just made history for her role as a writer, becoming the first black woman to ever win an Emmy for comedy writing, for her work on the poignantly groundbreaking episode “Thanksgiving,” about the complexities of coming out to your family.

Since Waithe is gay IRL as well as onscreen, tonight’s victory would also make her the first black lesbian to win in the Emmy category — a fact that Waithe embraced with a fierce grace onstage during her acceptance speech.

Lena Waithe accepts the Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series award for “Master of None” during the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on Sept. 17, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

With a beaming Ansari at her side, Waithe thanked her girlfriend and the entire “LGBQTIA community,” noting, “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world, because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”

Overjoyed fans immediately began flooding social media with praise for Waithe’s shout-out.

Still, some were left scratching their heads over Waithe’s addition of “IA” at the end of “LGBQT.” And so, before delving into more happy tweets, here’s a quick lesson in the queer ABCs…

“LGBT,” the original acronym, stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.” The “Q” was eventually added to denote “queer” or “questioning,” as in a person who is questioning his or her sexual identity. (Waithe added her own flair on Sunday by reversing the T and Q’s typical positions.)

The “I” stands for “intersex,” which is “an umbrella term describing people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosome pattern that can’t be classified as typically male or female,” according to GLAAD.

But its inclusion in the extended version of the LGBTQ acronym is one that’s been debated for years. Some intersex activists argue that one, the condition is pathologized in a way similar to how homosexuality has historically been treated and two, that the surgical “treatment” for intersex individuals is heavily motivated by homophobia. Still others believe that inclusion in the acronym gives the inaccurate impression that all intersex people are gay or lesbian.

Finally, there’s the “A,” which stands for “asexual” — another point of heated discussion when it comes to inclusion in the acronym. A person who is asexual is one who does not experience sexual attraction, and many who identify as such see inclusion as making sense, because, as one activist put it, “Asexuality is very much a part of the broader conversation in our society about gender and sexual diversity. [It’s] certainly queer, and it’s certainly part of the LGBT community.” Still, others don’t get it.

FWIW, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is just one major organization to have updated its queer acronym usage to LGBTQIA; but other activists, including Lea DeLaria of Orange Is the New Black, won’t have any part of it. “This is the biggest issue we have in the queer community to date and will continue to be the biggest issue until we learn to accept our differences, and that’s the issue,” she once told PrideSource.com. “And part of me believes that this inclusivity of calling us the LGBTQQTY-whatever-LMNOP tends to stress our differences. And that’s why I refuse to do it. I say queer. Queer is everybody.”

Acronym specifics aside, people could not get enough of Waithe’s prideful shout-out on Sunday night.

Go Lena!

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