As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s important to recognize the evolving and expanding vocabulary that represents the LGBTQ+ community. As part of our “Words Matter Series,” we’ve put together an expansive (but not exhaustive) list of terms that define the growing vocabulary used to describe identity, gender, and sexuality. Since terminology is so fluid and identity labels mean different things to different people, this list simply aims to serve as a resource and guide. By no means does every definition describe every person’s identity perfectly, but we hope this guide is a helpful start.
Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms
Ally: A straight and/or cisgender person who supports and advocates for LGBTQ people.
Androgynous: Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine.
Asexual: A term describing individuals who do not experience sexual attraction or do not have interest in or desire for sex. Asexuality is different from celibacy, which means abstaining from sex. Asexuality is often viewed as a spectrum – meaning there are varying levels and identities regarding someone’s emotional, spiritual and romantic attraction. The best way to refer to the asexual community is to use the umbrella term “ace” or “aces” as in the “ace community,” which acknowledges that spectrum.
Binary System: A binary system is something made up of two opposing parts. Gender (man/woman) and sex (male/female) are examples of binary systems.
Biphobia: Prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people.
Bisexual: A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.
Cisgender: A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Coming out: People forge their LGBTQ identity first to themselves, and then they may reveal it to others. Publicly sharing one’s identity may or may not be part of coming out.
Drag King: Mostly female performance artists who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of an individual or group routine.
Drag Queen: Mostly male performance artists who use feminine drag clothing and makeup to imitate and often exaggerate female gender signifiers and gender roles for entertainment purposes.
Gay: A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender. Avoid identifying gay people as “homosexuals,” an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.
Gender-fluid: A term used by people whose identity shifts or fluctuates. Sometimes these individuals may identify or express themselves as more masculine on some days, and more feminine on others.
Gender identity: One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
Gender non-conforming: Describes a person whose gender expression is, or appears to be, different from what we would expect from their assigned gender. Other terms include “gender variant” or “gender diverse.”
Genderqueer: A term that describes someone whose gender identity is not just a man or a woman. This identity can mean different things to different people.
Gender transition: The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.
Homophobia: The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, people who are attracted to members of the same sex.
Intersex: A term for someone born with biological sex characteristics that aren’t traditionally associated with male or female bodies. Intersexuality does not refer to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women.
LGBTQ+: Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Sometimes, when the Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it can also mean questioning. The term “gay community” should be avoided, as it does not accurately reflect the diversity of the community. Rather, LGBTQ community is preferred. The plus sign denotes everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum that letters and words cannot yet describe.
Non-binary: An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do.
Out: Refers to a person who self-identifies as LGBTQ in their personal, public, and/or professional lives. Preferred instead of the term “openly gay”.
Pansexual: Someone who is attracted to people of all gender identities. Or someone who is attracted to a person’s qualities regardless of their gender identity. (The prefix “pan” means “all,” rejecting the gender binary that some argue is implied by “bisexual.”)
Queer: A broad term that is inclusive of people who are not straight and/or cisgender. In the past this word was used as discriminatory. Today the word is often used in a positive way by folks who identify as queer as well as by allies of queer/LGBTQ people, however, some people still feel that it is a negative word.
Questioning: A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sexual orientation: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.
They/Their: The singular they can be used to describe someone who identifies as neither male nor female. It is increasingly common for people who have a non-binary gender identity to use they/them as their pronoun.
Trans* or Trans+: Two umbrella terms for non-cisgender identities.
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
Transphobia: The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.
+Keep learning! Read our blog: A Guide to Racial Equity Terms.