Personal Essays

The harm of LGBTQ community claiming African American Vernacular English

Wendy Wang | Asst. Photo Editor

Members of the LGBTQ community need to address their appropriation of African American Vernacular English.

The LGBTQ community is constantly changing, even here at Syracuse University. While there has always and will always be LGBTQ people in the world, the community surrounding our identities and the conversations we have will always shift and evolve. The visible parts of the LGBTQ community change with society and what it deems “acceptable” at the time.

As the LGBTQ community is gaining more attention in mainstream consciousness, one problem that needs to be addressed is the LGBTQ community’s appropriation of African American Vernacular English, or AAVE. The LGBTQ community has taken words and phrases that were coined by Black people in AAVE and has commodified them to meet their own needs. 

I first realized I was some sort of queer when I was in middle school. I thought that the LGBTQ community was about welcoming everybody and promoting “love who you love,” however, the longer I was a part of that community, the more flaws I saw within it.

When I started my journey as a bisexual girl in middle school, I wasn’t out to anybody, so the only real interactions I had with other gay people were what I saw on TV or on social media. I grew up on the phrases “slay” and “queen” without really knowing where they came from. I automatically assumed that it was just “gay slang” that people within the community used. I was only partially right.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized a lot of the “slang” that the LGBTQ community claimed was originally from the Black community, specifically Black women. The words that I thought were coined by LGBTQ people were actually from another marginalized group with their own unique dialect.

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The words and phrases were brought into the community through LGBTQ Black women and Black drag queens. Then they were taken by non-Black members of the LGBTQ community and commodified to fit their needs in language. While some members of the community may not intentionally steal the dialect, there is still an undeniable amount of harm that results from taking and commodifying another culture’s language.

At first, I didn’t know what to do with this information. After all, just because words might have roots in other languages doesn’t mean that those words can’t evolve into slang for other communities.

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But the problem lies in the use of specific phrases and treating the words like they are “slang” instead of part of a dialect. In the text, “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan” by June Jordan, when asked to elaborate on their opinions of The Color Purple, the students in the class said, “Why does she have them sound so funny. It don’t sound right.” These students have been taught that the way they speak is “improper,” which leads them to not being able to recognize it as a valid written language. They automatically criticize it for not sounding grammatically correct, even though it is a different, and equally valid, dialect. 

When other communities, like the LGBTQ community, start to use phrases from AAVE as informal buzzwords that are sometimes seen as “less intelligent” than standardized English, it steals part of a culturally significant language from Black people while simultaneously pushing the narrative that AAVE is not as articulate as standardized English.  

There is not a clear-cut solution to this imminent problem. No matter what Black people say or do about it, many non-Black people in the LGBTQ community still think that they have a right to use AAVE. Asking the LGBTQ community or any other community that has begun to use AAVE words and phrases that have become mainstream to stop using these words wouldn’t be realistically possible because of the sheer number of people in those communities.

Having a conversation about these phrases and their history is a good place to start, though, and through conversation and discussions we can come to some form of agreement that can work for all parties involved. Syracuse University should be one of the first institutions to begin this discussion, opening up a dialogue on the campus that would invite people to talk about and discuss their feelings on the matter and how to move forward. That way, SU could get one step closer at becoming the welcoming and accepting school with a loving community that it prides itself on being and set an example for the rest of the community.

Kit Radley ‘26







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