People are often confused by the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and the related acronym LGBTQ. The following definitions will help you to understand these terms.
LGBTQ: The first four letters of this standard abbreviation are “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” The letter Q can stand for “questioning” -- as in still exploring one’s sexuality -- or “queer,” or sometimes both.
Lesbian: A woman whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to some other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women. Avoid identifying lesbians as “homosexuals,” a derogatory term (see Offensive Terms to Avoid).
Gay: The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people). In contemporary contexts, lesbian (n. or adj.) is often a preferred term for women. Avoid identifying gay people as “homosexuals,” an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.
Bisexual, Bi: An individual who is attracted to more than one gender physically, romantically and/or emotionally. Bisexuals need not have had sexual experience with both men and women; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to identify as bisexual.
Transgender: Unlike non-binary people, transgender people may identify as male or female. It is an umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.
Queer: Once considered a demeaning slur for being gay, “queer” is being reclaimed by some as a self-affirming umbrella term, especially among those who consider other labels restrictive. Some still believe it’s a homophobic slur, so it should be avoided unless quoting or describing someone who self-identifies that way.
Questioning: This term describes someone who is questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Asexual: Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction, but it doesn’t rule out romantic attraction.
Cisgender: The prefix “cis” means “on this side.” Adding it to the suffix “gender” creates a word for someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. In other words, someone who does not identify as transgender.
Gender: The socially constructed roles, behaviors and attributes that serve as cultural indicators of someone’s personal and social identity. Typically, these roles are grouped into one of two categories: male or female. That’s starting to change, as society grows more comfortable with the idea of gender as a spectrum and not binary.
Gender identity: A person’s emotional and psychological sense of their gender, which may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. The most common examples of gender identity are male and female, but there are several terms for people who don’t fit into those categories, such as the following
Intersex: People born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia or an internal reproductive system that is not considered standard for males or females. Parents and physicians usually choose the sex of the child, resulting in surgery or hormone treatment. Some intersex adults want this practice to end because one’s sex at birth may not align with their own sense of gender or identity.
Non-binary: One of the more common terms to describe people who don’t identify as male or female. Some may have a gender that blends male and female elements, or they may not identify with any gender. Common synonyms or alternatives to non-binary terms include gender queer and gender nonconforming.
Pansexual: The prefix “pan” says it all. Pansexual is an adjective for those who are attracted to all types of people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation: One’s innate sexual attraction to other men, women or others who identify as non-binary. Not to be confused with gender, sex or gender identity.
There are many offensive terms used to describe members of the LGBTQ community and should not be used. These can be found at the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, as well as other definitions and the above terms in their entirety.