Glossary of Terms: LGBTQ
Definitions were drafted in collaboration with other U.S.-based LGBTQ community organizations and leaders. See acknowledgements section.
Additional terms and definitions about gender identity and gender expression, transgender people, and nonbinary people are available in the Transgender Glossary.
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*NOTE: Ask people what terms they use to describe their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression before assigning them a label. Outside of acronyms, these terms should only be capitalized when used at the beginning of a sentence.
Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. The Q generally stands for queer when LGBTQ organizations, leaders, and media use the acronym. In settings offering support for youth, it can also stand for questioning. LGBT and LGBTQ+ are also used, with the + added in recognition of all non-straight, non-cisgender identities. (See Transgender Glossary ) Both are acceptable, as are other versions of this acronym. The term “gay community” should be avoided, as it does not accurately reflect the diversity of the community. Rather, LGBTQ community or LGBTQ+ community are recommended.
The scientifically accurate term for an person’s enduring physical, romantic and/ or emotional attraction to another person. Sexual orientations can include heterosexual (straight), lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, and other orientations. Avoid the offensive term “sexual preference,” which is used to inaccurately suggest that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is voluntary and “curable.” People need not have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people have sexual orientations too, and they may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, etc. For example, a transgender woman who is attracted exclusively to women would typically describe herself a lesbian; if she were exclusively attracted to men, she would likely describe herself a straight woman. A transgender person who is attracted to more than one gender will likely identify as bisexual or pansexual.
Acronym for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and sex characteristics, more commonly used in countries outside the United States. Inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, and sex characteristics, including intersex traits. Some also use SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity) or SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression). The acronym refers to all humans with sexual orientations and gender identities, including cisgender and straight people. So when talking about people with marginalized identities, it is important to also use words that specify the marginalized groups you are referring to (e.g. transgender, nonbinary, lesbian, etc.).
A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women. Avoid identifying lesbians as “homosexuals.” Lesbian can be used as a noun or adjective. Ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientation.
An adjective used to describe a person whose enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people). Sometimes lesbian (n. or adj.) is the preferred term for women. Avoid identifying gay people as “homosexuals” an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people. Ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientations.
Bisexual, Bi, Bi+
An adjective used to describe a person who has the potential to be physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree. The bi in bisexual refers to genders the same as and different from one’s own gender. Do not write or imply that bi means being attracted to men and women. That is not an accurate definition of the word. Do not use a hyphen in the word bisexual.
People may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime. Bisexual people need not have had specific sexual experiences to be bisexual; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to call themselves bisexual. Some people use the words bisexual and bi to describe the community. Others may use bi+ which is intended to be inclusive of those who call themselves bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer and other words which describe people who have the potential to be attracted to more than one gender. Similar to questioning, people might say they are bicurious if they are exploring whether or not they are attracted to people of the same gender as well as people of other genders. (See In Focus: Bisexual People for more information. )
An adjective to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. People who are transgender may also use other terms, in addition to transgender, to describe their gender more specifically. Some of those terms are defined in the Transgender Glossary . Use the term(s) the person uses to describe themself. It is important to note that being transgender is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures. A person can call themself transgender the moment they realize that their gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. (See Transition in the Transgender Glossary).
Additional terms and definitions related to transgender and nonbinary people and issues are available in the Transgender Glossary.
An adjective used by some people, particularly younger people, whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual (e.g. queer person, queer woman). Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel do not apply to them. Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves. However, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQ community, so use caution when using it outside of describing the way someone self-identifies or in a direct quote. When Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it typically means queer. In a setting for support, particularly for youth, it may mean questioning. Ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientation.
Nonbinary is an adjective used by people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the binary gender categories of man and woman. Many nonbinary people also call themselves transgender and consider themselves part of the transgender community. Others do not. Nonbinary is an umbrella term that encompasses many different ways to understand one’s gender. Some nonbinary people may also use words like agender, bigender, demigender, pangender, etc. to describe the specific way in which they are nonbinary. Always ask people what words they use to describe themselves. Nonbinary is sometimes shortened to enby. Do not use NB, as that is often shorthand for non-Black. Nonbinary may also be written as non-binary. Both forms are commonly used within the community and both are acceptable. (See In Focus: Nonbinary People for more information.)
Additional terms and definitions related to transgender and nonbinary people and issues are available in the Transgender Glossary.
An adjective used to describe a person who experiences sexual attraction to others, and is not asexual (e.g., allosexual person).
An adjective used to describe a person who is primarily sexually, aesthetically, and/or romantically attracted to masculinity.
An adjective used to describe a person who does not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic is an umbrella term that can also include people who are demiromantic, meaning a person who does not experience romantic attraction until a strong emotional or sexual connection is formed with a partner.
An adjective used to describe a person who does not experience sexual attraction (e.g., asexual person). Sometimes shortened to “ace.” Asexual is an umbrella term that can also include people who are demisexual, meaning a person who does experience some sexual attraction, but only in certain situations, for example, after they have formed a strong emotional or romantic connection with a partner. (For more information, visit asexuality.org ).
An adjective used to describe a person who is primarily sexually, aesthetically, and/or romantically attracted to femininity.
An adjective used to describe a person whose enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attraction is to people of a sex different than their own. Also: straight.
(see Terms to Avoid) Outdated clinical term considered derogatory and offensive. The Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post restrict usage of the term.
An adjective used to describe a person with one or more innate sex characteristics, including genitals, internal reproductive organs, and chromosomes, that fall outside of traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. Do not confuse having an intersex trait with being transgender. Intersex people are assigned a sex at birth — either male or female — and that decision by medical providers and parents may not match the gender identity of the child. (see In Focus: Intersex People for more information.)
An adjective used to describe a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions to any person, regardless of gender identity. This is one of several terms under the bi+ umbrella.
An adjective used by some people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Also known as SGL, this is a term used by some African American people as an Afrocentric alternative to what are considered Eurocentric, or white, identities like gay and lesbian. Coined by activist Cleo Manago in the 1990s, the term and its usage explicitly recognizes the histories and cultures of people of African descent.
An adjective used by some Indigenous and First Nations people as an umbrella term to describe people who are not straight and/or cisgender. Many Indigenous communities have specific words in their language to describe these experiences, but some do not. This term should not be used to describe people who are not Indigenous. Only use it for an Indigenous person if they use it to describe themselves.
An adjective used to describe a straight and/or cisgender person who supports and advocates for LGBTQ people. Plural is allies.
Prejudice or hatred toward bisexual people, expressed in speech or actions. Biphobia may be expressed in comments that reflect doubts about the legitimacy of bisexuality as an orientation, inaccurately implying that it is not real, “just a phase” or a cover for someone not ready to come out as gay. Intolerance, bias, or prejudice is usually a more accurate description.
Historically used in the U.S. to describe state-based relationship recognition for same-sex couples that offered some or all of the state rights, protections, and responsibilities of marriage, but none of the federal rights. While many Western countries (including the United States) have now legalized marriage equality, others only legally recognize same-sex relationships through civil unions or other legal partnerships. See Global LGBTQ Rights for more.
Describes a person who is not open about their sexual orientation. Better to simply refer to someone as not out about being LGBTQ. People may be out to some people in their life, but not out to others due to fear of rejection, harassment, violence, losing one’s job, or other concerns.
A lifelong process of self-acceptance. People come to understand their own sexual orientation first, and then they may reveal it to others. It is not necessary to have sexual experiences to come out as LGBTQ, nor is it necessary to tell others. It is possible to simply be out to one’s self.
Civil/legal recognition of a committed relationship between two people that sometimes extends limited legal protections to them.
Prejudice or hatred toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, expressed in speech or actions. Intolerance, bias, or prejudice is usually a more accurate description.
(see Terms to Avoid) Inaccurate term used by anti-LGBTQ activists to denigrate LGBTQ people and inaccurately imply that being LGBTQ is a voluntary or a “choice.” As there is no one straight lifestyle, there is no one LGBTQ lifestyle.
Marriage or Marriage Equality
In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that every American has the constitutional right to marry the person they love. When reporting on marriage for same-sex couples, preferred terminology includes marriage equality, marriage for same-sex couples, or just marriage. Note, the terms “gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage” should be avoided, as they can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different or less equal than other marriages. See Family and Parenting and Global LGBTQ Rights for more.
This phrase is now dated. Please see Out below. “Openly gay” has been used to describe people who self-identify as gay in their personal, public, and/or professional lives. Also openly lesbian, openly bisexual, openly transgender, openly queer. While technically accurate, the phrase implies a confessional aspect to publicly acknowledging one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is now better to avoid this phrase.
A person who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender in their personal, public, and/or professional lives. For example: Ricky Martin is an out gay pop star from Puerto Rico. Preferred to openly gay.
The act of publicly revealing (sometimes based on rumor and/or speculation) another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s consent. Considered inappropriate and potentially dangerous by a large portion of the LGBTQ community.
Historically used to selectively persecute gay people, the state laws often referred to as “sodomy laws” were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). “Sodomy” should never be used to describe relationships or sexual orientation.
TERMS TO AVOID
“homosexual” (n. or adj.)
Because of the clinical history of the word “homosexual,” it is aggressively used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that people attracted to the same sex are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Please avoid using “homosexual” except in direct quotes. Please also avoid using “homosexual” as a style variation simply to avoid repeated use of the word “gay.” Many mainstream news outlets’ style guides restrict use of the term “homosexual.”
gay (adj.); gay man or lesbian (adj., n.); gay person/people
Use gay, lesbian, or when appropriate, bisexual, pansexual, or queer to describe people attracted to people of the same gender or more than one gender. Ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientation.
TERMS TO AVOID
“homosexual relations/relationship,” “homosexual couple,” “homosexual sex,” etc.
Identifying a same-sex couple as “a homosexual couple,” characterizing their relationship as “a homosexual relationship,” or identifying their intimacy as “homosexual sex” should be avoided. These constructions are frequently used by anti-LGBTQ activists to denigrate LGBTQ people, couples, and relationships.
relationship, couple (or, if necessary, gay/lesbian/same-sex couple), sex, etc.
As a rule, try to avoid labeling an activity, emotion, or relationship gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer unless you would call the same activity, emotion, or relationship “straight” if engaged in by someone of another orientation.
TERMS TO AVOID
The term “sexual preference” is typically used to inaccurately suggest that being attracted to the same sex is a choice and therefore can and should be “cured” or “changed.”
sexual orientation or orientation
Sexual orientation is the accurate description of an person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same gender and/or people of a different gender, and is inclusive of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and pansexual, as well as straight people.
TERMS TO AVOID
“gay lifestyle,” “LGBTQ lifestyle,” “homosexual lifestyle,” or “transgender lifestyle”
There is no single “LGBTQ lifestyle.” LGBTQ people are diverse in the ways they lead their lives. The phrases “gay lifestyle,” “LGBTQ lifestyle,” “homosexual lifestyle,” and “transgender lifestyle” are used to denigrate LGBTQ people by inaccurately suggesting that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity is a choice and therefore can and should be “cured” or “changed.”
LGBTQ people and their lives
TERMS TO AVOID
“gay rights” or “special rights”
People who are LGBTQ are not asking for rights that are different from the rights everyone has. They are simply seeking full equality under the law and an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Equality for LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people are advocating to be treated equally.
Anti-LGBTQ Terms Mainstream Media Should Avoid
“fag,” “faggot,” “dyke,” “homo,” “sodomite,” and similar epithets
While some in the community have reclaimed and use these words to describe themselves, the criteria for mainstream news media in using these derogatory terms should be the same as those applied to vulgar epithets used to target other groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted or if a LGBTQ person uses the term to describe themself. So that such words are not given credibility in the media, it is preferred that reporters say, “The person used a derogatory word for a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer person” except when a LGBTQ person uses the term to describe themself.
“deviant,” “disordered,” “dysfunctional,” “diseased,” “perverted,” “destructive” and similar descriptions
The notion that being LGBTQ is a psychological disorder was discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Words such as deviant,” “diseased” and “disordered” are sometimes used to portray LGBTQ people as less than human, mentally ill, or as a danger to society. Words such as these should be avoided in stories about the LGBTQ community. If they must be used, they should be quoted directly in a way that clearly reveals the bias of the person being quoted.
Associating LGBTQ people with pedophilia, child abuse, sexual abuse, bestiality, bigamy, polygamy, adultery and/or incest
Being LGBTQ is neither synonymous with, nor indicative of, any tendency toward pedophilia, child abuse, sexual abuse, bestiality, bigamy, polygamy, adultery and/or incest. Such claims, innuendoes and associations often are used to insinuate that LGBTQ people pose a threat to society, to families, and to children in particular. Such assertions and insinuations are defamatory and should be avoided, except in direct quotes that clearly reveal the bias of the person quoted.
Recently, anti-LGBTQ memes have circulated on various social media platforms wrongfully asserting that a “P” is being added to LGBTQ for pedophilia — this false narrative has been debunked by fact checkers at USA Today and Reuters, and content perpetuating the falsehood has been removed by Facebook.