A is for…A Case Study

A/N: This is mostly a linkdump, but may be of interest if you are an ace history nerd interested in the history of “A” in one particular LGBTQIA Acronym

One of the first places that I remember seeing “LGBTQIA” with an “A” for Asexual was in 2011, at the Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference at UC Berkeley – I remember attending and getting really excited about the fact that the pamphlets, which were covered by repeating patterns of all the words in the LGBTQIA acronym, also featured the words “asexual” (and I was even more excited about Siggy’s presentation).

So, that particular conference left a lasting impression on me, and when I later started looking into the history of the “A” in LGBTQIA, that conference was one of the first places I looked into – I wondered how long that “A” has been for “asexual” and what history lead us there. Here’s what I found:


 

The Beginning:  “A is for…..Association?!?!”

So, to start with, we should go over the history of the Western Regional Conference. Before there was even a conference, there was the UCLGBA – the University of California Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Association, an support organization founded in 1991 for leaders of various lesbian, gay and/or lesbian organizations on the nine UC Campuses.

There’s not a lot of easily accessible documentation for this time period, but in the small cache of documents that are available, one document is the chronicle of official UCLGB(ti)A meetings from 1990 to 1997, including their annual “General Assemblies” – the precursor to what would eventually become Western Regional.

While early documents of the “UCLGBA” only list out lesbian, gay and bisexual, at some between 1992 ans 1998, a “T” was added to create “UCLGBTA“.

In 2001, an “I” for “Intersex” was added to the org’s name and their scope of work, becoming the UCLGBTIA

Throughout both these transitions, the A seemed to (as far as I could tell) still stand for “association”

Although early General Assemblies began to host small conferences as soon as 1995, the big shift came in 2005, when they shifted to a more public regional conference, open to non-UC students, known as the “Western Regional LGBTQIA” conference – western regionals had arrived.


 

The allies arrive to the party

While the UCLGBTIA continues to use “A” for “Association”, we see definite changes starting in the actual Western Regional conference materials:

In 2005, the Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference at UC Davis gives us our first inclusion of “Allies”:

16th Annual Western Regional
Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Queer Intersex Allies
College Conference

In  announcements for the 2007 UC Riverside Conference (they skipped a year) we see the same

“UC Riverside has been selected to host the 17th Western Regional Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Allies (LGBTQIA) College Conference Feb. 16-18, 2007.

The theme of the conference will be “Out of the Rainbow & Into the Streets” and will explore the metaphor of the rainbow as the symbol of the homogeneity of LGBTQIA community, which many feel has often excluded and misrepresented various constituencies. It will also examine the kinds of actions that should be taken to help eliminate stereotyping and gain equal access under the law.”

We see something similar in the 2008 conference text and announcements:

“Viva la Queervolution!” is the theme of the 18th Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference, hosted by UCLA.

The conference brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex people and allies for 3 days of programs, speakers and community building.

I couldn’t find the any spelling out of the acronym on the archived bits of the 2009 conference, but the 2010 conference bid packet text makes it even more explicit:

What is the name of the conference?
Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference

What does LGBTQIA stand for?
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (Questioning) Intersex Allies

Why don’t you use LGBTQQIA?
Because some areas of the region are not yet comfortable with the word “Queer,” so they would have the option of saying “Questioning” for the “Q.”

The later 2010 conference announcement continues the theme:

“Honor the Past, Impact the Present, Define Our Future”” is the theme of the 20th Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference, hosted by Cal Poly SLO.

The conference brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex people and allies for 3 days of programs, speakers and community building.

Basically, from 2005 to 2010, it’s allies all around (and nary an “asexual” in sight).

And then, we get to 2011, which is our Combo Breaker.


 

Now, I have to admit that I am definitely biased towards the 2011 Western Regional Conference, both as a Berkeley student (we hosted this year, which is also, I suspect, a strong reason why ace inclusion happened at this particular conference, as Cal was already starting to include asexuality in their queer community programming at this point, probably at least in part due to the influence of David Jay living across the bay), and since this is the only real Western Regional that I ever attended in person I have more knowledge of it. But this is definitely the first year where “A” starts to shift from Ally to Asexual.

The 2011 website has some differences in wording that give some initial clues that paradigms are changing. First, unlike previous western regional websites, this site explicitly positions “allies” as a separate group outside of LGBTQIIA:

Open to LGBTQQIIA identifying individuals & allies from high school ages and up.

In fact, as far as I can tell, they never actually spell out LGBTQQIIA on the website, though they did in printed materials (as I mentioned above). And while the website does not mention asexuality outside of the listing for Siggy’s panel, from what I recall the printed materials definitely did – and they had an A for Asexual. So partial progress, but progress nonetheless.

(This is also, as far as I can tell from the few years where event listings were online, the first western regional to have any ace presenters.)

in 2012, they seemed to take 2011’s lead by only writing LGBTQIA on the (minimalist) website with no breakdown, so it’s not clear how the A was used there – I’d need more materials for that. Though one announcement seems to backslide by implying it’s hosted by an A is for Allied organization:

Cost: Keynote is free and open to the public. Conference registration ranges from $30 -$50.

Group: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Allied (LGBTQIA)
 

This was also co-hosted by University of the Pacific, which had a seperate prior conference that was merged into this, so that may affect things.

And then, finally, the last Western Regional was in Santa Cruz in 2013. Their website does not appear to have been archived, so all I have so far is their mission statement:

Coloring in the Spectrum. Strength, Solidarity, Sustainability.”

Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference 2013 at UC Santa Cruz is a conference that is rooted in the inclusiveness of all queer identities and its intersections, especially those based in sexuality, class, gender and race. The conference will strive to create a space where all aspects of the spectrum of identities are represented and as many possible intersections of these identities can be explored through workshops and engaging speakers. We also envision a conference that is environmentally sustainable and as such it is our goal to make this a zero impact conference. Additionally, the conference aims to use these opportunities to create a more unified, aware, and skillful group that will challenge heteronormatives and engage their communities in the form of activism, awareness, and education for a more diverse and empowered future.

Which makes no attempt to explain the acronym, so I don’t know if asexuality stuck or not.

After this, the Western Regional conference failed to find a host for the next year, and went on a “hiatus” that it never recovered from.


 

The Takeaway

In the end, this is just a random case study: it’s doesn’t tell us about overall trends, but it gives insight into one specific example. In this case, it shows an example evolution of the “A” in LGBTIA – from merely referring to the act that a group was an “association”, before T was even added to the acronym; to the transformation into an  A for “ally” in an expanded acronym 2005; to finally the second transformation of that A into an for “asexual” as well in 2011.

Anyway, if anyone sees this who has more knowledge of Western Regional history, I’d definitely be curious to hear your thoughts!

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About Sennkestra

I'm an aromantic asexual and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in linguistics. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make costumes and other arts and crafts projects.
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3 Responses to A is for…A Case Study

  1. Pingback: Linkspam: January 13th, 2017 | The Asexual Agenda

  2. Siggy says:

    I was at the 2010 Western Regional conference at Cal Poly SLO. I was disappointed by the lack of any asexual content, and that was why I submitted a workshop the next year. I like to think that the organizers were “reminded” to add in asexuality because I had submitted a workshop, but I never asked.

    • Sennkestra says:

      That’s good to know! I wouldn’t be surprised – based on my impressions at the time, the groups that hosted the conference that year were definitely ace friendly and ace aware, but didn’t always explicitly include aces in things without a little prompting. (Which is another thing that has definitely changed over the years – they often have ace inclusion and programming planned and ready before I even think to ask about it now!)

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