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Older queer person in brown shirt sitting in chair against cloth backdrop

Feb 29, 2024

The History of the Word Queer

Ella Dame

You may have seen people react poorly to using the weird queer in an affirming manner, or you may have been confused as to why people use the word in a positive way. No matter where you are on the spectrum of understanding the more modern use of the word queer as a positive label, we are here to explain how the use of the word queer has evolved through history and how it can be used to celebrate unique identities today!


Where Did the Word Queer Even Come From?

The early history of the word queer has unfortunately stems from ignorance and bigotry. One of the first recorded uses of the word was during the Oscar Wilde trial, according to The National Archives.

Illustration of Oscar Wilde on trial
Image credit: GetArchive

Oscar Wilde was a poet, playwright, and novelist during the 19th century. He was infamously placed on trial for homosexuality and pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of gross indecency. The trial resulted in a two year imprisonment with hard labor (1895-1897) in London.

During this trial, his relationships were described as queer in a negative sense. Newspapers printed the word queer in a negative manner when describing his trial and the word became adopted to negatively describe homosexuality until the late 20th century.


Queerness and the LGBTQ+ Movement

OutRAGE LGBTQ+ Advocacy Group Pride March with protesters holder slogan signs and pride flags
OutRAGE LGBTQ+ Advocacy Group Pride March with protesters holder slogan signs and pride flags
Image credit: Flickr

It was during the 1970s-1990s that activist groups such as ACT UP (an HIV/AIDS activism group) became self-identifying as queer. Groups used slogans such as “Outrage! Queers Against Homophobia!” to promote the acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community.

OutRage was a group formed in 1990 in London in response to the escalation of violence against the LGBTQ+ community and the rise in queer men being arrested in London for homosexuality with no just cause or reasoning, according to OutRage.

The OutRage movement became the face of positive change for the queer community and used the word ‘queer’ as a reclamation of what it meant to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. This was done through queer sloganing, pins, and fliers donning messages like “Stop Crucifying Queers” and “Queer Love Defies Hetero Laws”.

The empowering, rebellious, and collective origin of queerness being reclaimed and celebrated during a time of ignorance and discrimination, speaks to the strength that has always been within the LGBTQ+ community and continues to grow everyday.


Queerness Today

Two queer friends hanging out at a park bench

Today, queerness is generally understood to be a label within the LGBTQ+ community that describes a unique and non conforming identity. This can be viewed within clothing, gender expression, makeup, sexuality, relationships, music, popular culture, and many other artistic, creative vehicles of self-expression.

Queerness follows no rules and connects a diverse community of people through both their similarities and differences. If you’d like to learn more about what queerness is today, check out our journal titled ‘What does it mean to be Queer?’!

Our Queer Community

Being a queer-owned and queer supportive company, Both& has created a community that celebrates queerness and non normative identities, relationships, and displays of expression! We would love to hear more about your experience within our community and how your perspective on queerness has formed. You can share your own experiences and/or explore other community members' thoughts on Discord!

Close up of two people holding hands
Image credit: VICE