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Woman fights to change UK trademark rules after being told she can’t use the word ‘queer’ as it’s offensive

Emma Powys Maurice October 3, 2019

Gem Kennedy is fighting the IPO to reclaim the word 'queer' (Image supplied)

A queer woman is calling on the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to change its policy after claiming she was denied a trademark because the name contained the word ‘queer’.

Gem Kennedy runs a social justice network for LGBT+ people and allies called Queers & Co. Initially based on Facebook, the community is expanding to include a quarterly zine and a podcast next year.

Kennedy knew the name was “perfect” for the community and applied for a trademark. But she was shocked to see her application rejected, as the IPO deems the word ‘queer’  to be “offensive” and “contrary to accepted moral values within the UK”.

“It felt frustrating to think that my identity was being deemed offensive by someone sitting in a government office who may have very little knowledge of the community and the fact that the word has been reclaimed,” she told PinkNews.

Issue 1 of the new Queers & Co zine (Image supplied)

“For a few moments, I doubted myself and thought perhaps it was my fault for wanting to use a word that historically was considered offensive. But that feeling of disempowerment and hopelessness is how marginalised communities are so often made to feel.

“I knew that the word ‘queer’ felt very empowering for me and I could see it being used all around me in both in my community and further afield; Queer Eye, Queer Britain, Queer Book Box, the Queer Prom, the list is extensive.”

Kennedy noted several inconsistencies in government policy, as there are more than 45 companies listed on Companies House whose name contains ‘queer’ – meaning you can own a company using the word but not trademark the name.

“That makes no sense!” she said. “I realise that for some members of the LGBTQ+ community, the term feels uncomfortable and possibly even offensive. I completely respect their decision not to want to use the word. But for myself and many others, it brings power and a sense of belonging.”

A new wave of gay activists in Canada reclaiming the word ‘queer’ (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star/Getty)

In their rejection letter the IPO quoted Ofcom’s definition of queer as “strong language, generally unacceptable. Seen as old-fashioned but also derogatory to gay men when used as an insult.”

However, in a 2016 report, Ofcom acknowledged that many former gay slurs have been reclaimed by the LGBT+ community and are no longer considered offensive in these circumstances.

Kennedy has filed a petition on Change.org in a bid to overturn the IPO’s decision, saying: “It’s time for the IPO to catch up with the times.

“Other governmental departments like Companies House and the Government Equalities Office have already updated their policies on this, so there is no excuse for the IPO to lag behind.”

Some of the members of Queer & Co’s diverse online community (Image supplied)

She added: “I believe that, as members of a marginalised community, we should have the right to identify as we wish and have that respected by all government departments, not just some.”

The petition has been signed by nearly 700 people so far, and Kennedy plans to send this to the IPO in hopes that it will appeal its decision.

“[Queer is] about so much more than sexuality and gender. It’s the way I live my life,” Kennedy said. “Queer, for me, is rooted in living radically, authentically and unapologetically.

“It’s also about recognising and being grateful to those who have fought for the rights we already have, including the people of colour who reclaimed the term queer in the 1980s, and being an activated member of society who is striving for something better for future generations.”

A spokesperson for the IPO told PinkNews: “Trade mark registrations can present complex moral challenges for the IPO. We have a legal responsibility to ensure that the trade marks we register do not have the potential to offend.

“We are aware that meanings can evolve over time, however. If an applicant disagrees with the examiner’s decision, we would encourage them to respond directly for the matter to be reconsidered.”

More: change.org, intellectual property, petition, Queer, trademark

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