First it was homophile. Then homosexual. After that it was gay. Then it was gay and lesbian. With the additional recognition of the bisexual and transgender communities, our broader community identifier became longer and longer. Is it GLBT or LGBT? And what about all those other letters? Activists lightheartedly refer to our blossoming community acronym as the “Alphabet Soup.” But we still routinely hear people asking what all the letters mean. Here’s a quick and dirty 101 on the beautiful diversity of the Alphabet Soup. The list isn’t meant to be fully exhaustive, but does give a wide spectrum of some of the most commonly-used labels you might hear or see as you attend LGBT community activities or go to events like Pride. For ease of use, we’ve listed the terms in alphabetical order. Some definitions are built upon a list of terms and phrases compiled by Eli R. Green and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center, University of California Riverside. Want to learn more? There’s a whole world of knowledge awaiting. Start simple with a Google or other web search to start your journey toward greater understanding.
Agender — a person who identifies with no gender.
Ally — someone who is not a sexual or gender minority who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia and heterosexist privilege or other prejudices.
Androgyne — a person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.
Bisexual — a person who is sexually or romantically attracted to people of more than one sex or gender.
Cisgender — a person whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth.
Gay — a male-identified person who is sexually or romantically attracted to other male-identified persons.
Genderqueer — a gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders; often includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.
Intersex — a person whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns.
Lesbian — a female-identified person who is sexually or romantically attracted to other female-identified persons.
Pansexual — a person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender expressions.
Same Gender Loving — a term sometimes used by members of the African-American or Black community to express a sexual orientation outside heterosexuality.
Transgender — a person whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex at birth.
What is ‘queer’?
Perhaps one of the most controversial labels within the LGBT community continues to be the word queer. Some see it as a reclaimed label of pride and politics, in common use since at least the 1980s. Others still see it as an insult. We’ve borrowed directly from Green’s and Peterson’s definition for the label below.
Queer — 1. An umbrella term which embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively- heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex persons, the radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive (underworld) explorers. 2. This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation label instead of ‘bisexual’ as a way of acknowledging that there are more than two genders to be attracted to, or as a way of stating a non-heterosexual orientation without having to state who they are attracted to. 3. A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. ‘Queer’ is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades ‘queer’ was used solely as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980s the term began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification. Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold ‘queer’ to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive. Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in-group when used by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their use when one is not a member of the group.