Glossary of Terms

Words matter. Make sure you're using them to tell people's stories fairly and accurately. The terms and definitions below are always evolving and changing and often mean different things to different people. For that reason, this is not an all-inclusive glossary of language used within the LGBTQ community, nor is it a prescriptive guide. Please do your own work to educate yourself about the use and meaning of all words included here. If a term is missing that should be included or has an inaccurate definition, please let us know.

What does LGBTQ+ mean?

  • LGBTQ+ | An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer; the "plus" is intended as an all-encompassing representation of sexual orientations and gender identities
  • LGBTQQIP2SAA | An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual

common terms

Ableism | The pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people who have mental, emotional and physical disabilities

Ageism | Any attitude, action, or institutional structure, which subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age

Ally | The action of working to end oppression through support of, and as an advocate with and for, a group other than one's own

Androgynous | Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine

Aromantic : A romantic orientation generally characterized by not feeling romantic attraction or a desire for romance. Aromantic people can be satisfied by friendship and other non-romantic relationships.

Asexual | The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people

BDSM | Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism-a wide spectrum of activities and forms of interpersonal relationships that, while not always overtly sexual in nature, are often eroticized.

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.

Closeted | Describes an LGBTQ person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Coming out | The process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others.

Down Low | Pop-culture term used to describe men who identify as heterosexual but engage in sexual activity with other men. Often these men are in committed sexual relationships or marriages with a female partner. This term is almost exclusively used to describe men of color.

Drag Queen/Drag King | People who present socially in clothing, name, and/or pronouns that differ from their everyday gender-usually for enjoyment, entertainment, and/or self-expression.

  • Note: Unless they are drag performers, most trans people would be offended by being confused with or referred to as drag queens or drag kings.

Gay | A person who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to members of the same gender.

Gender dysphoria | Clinically significant distress caused when a person's assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term - which replaces Gender Identity Disorder - "is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults."

Gender-expansive | Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.

Gender expression | External appearance of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender-fluid | According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity.

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 | A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

Genderqueer | Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as "genderqueer" may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories.

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 | People who naturally (without any medical interventions) develop primary and/or secondary sex characteristics that do not fit neatly into society's definitions of male or female. Many visibly intersex babies/children are surgically altered by doctors to make their sex characteristics conform to societal binary norm expectations. Intersex people are relatively common, although society's denial of their existence has allowed very little room for intersex issues to be discussed publicly. There are at least 16 different ways to be intersex.

Lesbian | A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women.

Living openly | A state in which LGBTQ people are comfortably out about their sexual orientation or gender identity - where and when it feels appropriate to them.

Misgendering : Attributing a gender to someone that is incorrect/does not align with their gender identity. Can occur when using pronouns, gendered language (i.e. "Hello ladies!"), or assigning genders to people without knowing how they identify (i.e. "Well, since we're all women in this room, we understand…").

Outing | Exposing someone's lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity to others without their permission. Outing someone can have serious repercussions on employment, economic stability, personal safety or religious or family situations.

Pansexual | Not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.

Personal gender pronoun (PGP) | A pronoun is any word that can replace a noun or noun phrase (I, you, them).  A PGP is the pronoun that a person uses for themselves (e.g., she, her, he, they, them)

Queer | A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with "LGBTQ."

Questioning | A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sexual behavior Refers to an individual's sexual activities or actions (what a person does sexually). Though often an individual's sexual orientation is in line with their sexual behavior, it is not always the case.

Sexual orientation | The scientifically accurate term for an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual (straight) orientations.

Same-gender loving | A term some prefer to use instead of lesbian, gay or bisexual to express attraction to and love of people of the same gender.

Sexual minority | An all inclusive, politically oriented term referring to individuals who identify with a minority sexual orientation, sex identity, or gender expression/gender identity.

Sexual orientation | An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.

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.

Transition | A complex process that includes some or all of the follow­ing personal, legal, and medical adjustments: telling one's family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more forms of surgery.

Transphobia | The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.

Zie & Hir | The most common spelling for gender neutral pronouns. Zie is subjective (replaces he or she) and Hir is possessive and objective (replaces his or her).

offensive & problematic terms

  • Homosexual | A clinical term frequently used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered (notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s).
  • Sexual preference | suggests that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is a choice and therefore can and should be "cured"
  • Lifestyle | There is no single lesbian, gay, or bisexual lifestyle. Phrases like "gay lifestyle" are used to denigrate lesbians and gay men.
  • Admitted/avowed homosexual | Dated terms that suggest being gay is somehow shameful or inherently secretive
  • Transgenders/a transgender | Transgender should be used as an adjective, not a noun.
  • Transgendered | The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous "-ed" tacked onto the end.
  • Sex change/pre- or post-operative | Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.


  • Always use a person's chosen name.
  • Many people cannot have their names legally changed due to: cost, risk to personal safety, or age. Afford them the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else.
  • A person who identifies as a certain gender should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender. If you are not certain which pronoun to use, ask. If it is not possible to ask, use the singular they.