The letters stand for the same words, however difference is historical.
60’s and 70’s queer activism looked VERY different from what we have now. In most cases groups of queer men were separate and focused on different issues than those activist groups populated by queer women. Sometimes the groups were mixed, such as the Gay Liberation Front, which always had lesbian and bisexual women working in it, however gay was used as the umbrella term to mean everyone. Lesbian was never used as an umbrella term.
As these movements grew, shifted, changed, and merged over time, many adopted the terms Gay and Lesbian in their title, such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). This was a way to show that the organization was indeed focused on queer women’s issues as well as those affecting gay men.
But queer women noticed that it was always written as ‘Gay and Lesbian’. Gay always came first. Since lesbian and bisexual women’s activism at this time period was often rooted in or very strongly influenced by second wave feminism, Lesbians pointed out that always coming in second was really sexist. So many groups changed the order of the words to demonstrate their commitment to fighting for greater lesbian visibility. GLBT became LGBT. Gay and Lesbian became Lesbian and Gay.
Now changing a name doesn’t really mean that the group has actually taken any action to fight sexism in it’s ranks or changed their agenda. But writing it as LGBTQ or LGBT or LGBTQIAP is often perceived as the literal definition of “least you can do” to show you care about queer women.
I’d also like to add that you NEVER see BTLG or TBLG. Lesbian and Gay ALWAYS comes first. Just a little monosexism and transphobia cocktail. That’s one of the reasons why historically bisexual and transgender movements have been so closely linked. The Ls and Gs didn’t want us. And even when we petitioned to have B and T added into the acronym for various organizations, it doesn’t mean these organizations did anything for us.
But just speaking as me personally, whenever I see an organization describe itself as ‘Gay and Lesbian’ instead of LGBT/GLBT, I instinctively don’t trust it to represent bisexual people or issues. If you can’t even be bothered to make a tiny change to your stationary, then you probably can’t be bothered to give a shit about bi people. For example, I have a bone to pick with the Publishing Triangle Awards — they describe themselves as a Lesbian and Gay organization. Oh bisexual people can be eligible for their book awards — bisexual women can win the lesbian award (Julia Serano was nominated this year) and bisexual men can win the gay award. But they won’t change the name of their organization or their awards to acknowledge us.
So whenever I see ‘Gay and Lesbian’ this is me:
I know lesbians who feel the same way when they see GLBT instead of LGBT — why trust someone who is so committed to sexism that they can’t even be bothered to switch two letters?