LGBT Glossary of Terms


ACT UP! - AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power; Created in 1987 as a direct action and activism organization to address the AIDS crisis. Their motto is SILENCE=DEATH.

AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; a serious, often fatal medical condition caused by the HIV virus. This condition compromises the human immune system leaving the body defenseless against opportunistic infections. The gay male community was hit hard by the AIDS crisis (and lack of governmental support) in the 1980's. Note: Individuals may be HIV-positive but not have AIDS.

Advocate - A person who actively works to end intolerance, educates others, and supports LGBT issues, concerns, equal rights legislation, etc.; Also- The Advocate Magazine: A bi-weekly, LGBT themed news magazine- the oldest continuing gay publication in the US (est. 1967).

Affectional Orientation: - A recent term used to refer to variations in object of emotional and sexual attraction. The term is preferred by some over "sexual orientation/gender identity" because it indicates that the feelings and commitments involved are not solely (or even primarily, for some people) sexual. The term stresses the affective emotional component of attractions and relationships, including heterosexual as well as LGBTQ orientation.

Ally - a) Someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own (e.g., a heterosexual-identified person supporting LGBTQ rights and individuals). Reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals.
b) Straight Ally: A non-lesbian, -gay man or -bisexual whose attitudes and behaviors are anti-heterosexist in perspective and who works towards combating homophobia and heterosexism, both on a personal and institutional level.

Androphile - An individual (of any sex/gender identity) who is fond of or attracted to men. (Related: Gynophile)

Asexual: - Having no evident sex or sex organs. In common usage, may refer to a person who is not sexually active, or not sexually attracted to other people.


Bear - Slang for a gay man whose disposition is rooted in a subculture that emphasizes male secondary sexual characteristics such as beards and body hair growth, and who is usually somewhat stouter than the average man.

Bias - An inclination or preference either for or against an individual or group that interferes with impartial judgment.

Biphobia: - The fear, hatred, or dismissal of an individual based solely on her/his bisexual identity or orientation; Also, the tendency (in both the heterosexual and the gay/lesbian communities) to deny the existence of bisexuals and bisexuality- (believing bisexual individuals are just "confused" or have not decided on their orientation yet).

Bisexual ("Bi") - A person who is attracted to two sexes or two genders, but not necessarily simultaneously or equally. {Note: This used to be defined as 'a person who is attracted to both genders or both sexes', but since there are not only two sexes (Seeintersex, transsexual) and there are not only two genders (See transgender), this definition is inaccurate.}

Biological Sex - Refers to the biological characteristics, determined by our chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); our hormones (estrogen/progesterone for females, testosterone for males); and our internal and external genitalia (vulva, clitoris, vagina for females, penis and testicles for males). Traditionally the medical system has defined this as a binary system (male/female) based on reproductive organs. *However, since about 1 in 2000 births in the population can be defined as intersex—born with biological aspects of both the male and female sexes to varying degrees or ambiguous biological characteristics (also referred to as a DSD- disorder of sex development). So, in actuality, there are more than two sexes. (See intersex for more information).

Boi - A gender identity referring to a younger, butch lesbian in the butch-femme community, possibly taking on the manner and characteristics of a young heterosexual man; A young transman, or a transman who is in the earlier stages of transitioning.

Butch - a) A gender-role specifier within the LGBTQ community that implies a masculine (or non-feminine) identity, mannerisms, or traits. An individual may simultaneously identify as female, male, genderqueer, or some other gender identity. (Related: Femme)
b) 1.'Masculine' or macho dress and behavior, regardless of sex or gender identity. 2. A sub-identity of lesbian, gay male, or bisexual, based on masculine or macho dress and behavior. (See Femme). 3. 'Butch it up': To exaggerate masculine behaviors. 


Closeted (or "in the closet") - Refers to an individual not being open (or "out") about her/his sexual orientation or gender identity; Non-acknowledgement of sexual orientation/ gender identity to oneself, or to others; may also refer to someone who is only out to a small number of people. (See also: Coming Out).

Coming Out - As in, "coming out of the closet;" recognizing and being open about one's sexual orientation/ gender identity to oneself and to others. Coming out is a continuous, life-long process, as opposed to a one-time event.

Cross-dressing - Wearing clothing (in public or privately) that is typical or socially expected for a gender other than the gender of the individual. (Related: drag, transvestite)

Cisgender - A person whose gender identity matches the sex and gender assigned at birth. See transgender for a detailed explanation of the difference between sex and gender. (Related: transgender, gender identity)

Cisgender privilege - Refers to the automatic rights and benefits automatically granted to cisgendered people that are denied to transgender, genderqueer, or gender variant people (such as the legal protection from employment discrimination based on gender).

Civil Union State - based relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples that offers some or all of the state (though none of the federal) rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage (see IN FOCUS: Civil Unions & Domestic Partner­ships, and Appendix A: Federal & State Laws & Protections). 


Discrimination - The act of showing partiality or prejudice; a prejudicial act; Treating LGBTQI individuals differently because of their status; (e.g., LGBTQ individuals are still legally discriminated against in housing and jobs in many states).

Drag - The act of dressing in gendered (often highly stereotypical) clothing as part of a performance. Drag Queens perform in highly feminine attire. Drag Kings perform in highly masculine attire. Drag may be performed as a political comment on gender, as parody, or simply as entertainment. Drag performance does not indicate sexuality, gender identity, or sex identity.

Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) - (See Intersex)


Family of Choice - a) Persons forming an individual's social support network and often fulfilling the functions of blood relations. Many LGBTQ people are rejected when their families learn of their sexual orientation/gender identity or may remain "closeted" to their biological relatives. In such cases it is their partner/significant other, close friends, and often former partners who will be called on in time of illness or personal crisis.
b) Persons or group of people an individual sees as significant in his or her life. It may include none, all, or some members of his or her family of origin. In addition, it may include individuals such as significant others or partners, friends, and coworkers.

Family of Origin - Biological family or the family in which one was raised. These individuals may or may not be part of a person's support system, and individual members of the family of origin may or may nt be part of a person's family of choice.

Femme - a) A gender-role specifier within the LGBTQ community that implies a feminine (or non-masculine) identity, mannerisms, or traits. An individual may simultaneously identify as female, male, genderqueer, or some other gender identity. (Related: Butch )
b) 1.'Feminine' dress and behavior, regardless of sex or gender identity. 2. A sub-identity of lesbian, gay male, or bisexual, based on feminine dress and behavior. (See Butch). 3. 'High Femme': Exaggerated feminine (or stereotypical female) behaviors.

FTM - "Female-to-Male" transgender or transsexual person; Individuals who have started, are in the process, or have partially or fully transitioned from female to male. The FTM process does not necessarily include sex reassignment surgery.  


Gay - a) The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people). In contemporary contexts, lesbian (n.) is often a preferred term for women. Avoid identifying gay people as "homosexuals".
b) Preferred by most homosexual men, this term was adopted by the community to indicate pride. Gay is sometimes used to refer to lesbians and bisexuals as well, but many members of both groups object to this usage, feeling it renders them invisible.

Gay Man - Male identified person whose primary emotional and sexual attraction is to men. Self-identified gay men do not necessarily have sex with men only.

Gender - a) The psychological and social meanings attached to being biologically "male" or "female" by society; this binary system ignores the broad range of genders that exist but do not fall neatly into one of those two categories.
b) 1. A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures. Words that refer to gender include: man, woman, transgender, masculine, feminine, and gender queer; 2. One's sense of self as masculine or feminine regardless of external genitalia. Gender is often conflated with sex. This is inaccurate because sex refers to bodies and gender refers to personality characteristics. (see also, gender identity).

Gender identity - a) Our innermost concept of self as “ male” or “female”—what we perceive and call ourselves. Individuals are conscious of this between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Many people develop a gender identity that 'matches' their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological sex. (see also: transgender or transsexual).
b) The gender that one sees oneself as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a gender. Gender identity is also often conflated with sexual orientation, but this is inaccurate. Gender identity does not cause sexual orientation. For example, a masculine woman is not necessarily a lesbian.

Gender neutral - a) Individuals: This can be a person's gender identity, in which the person identifies as having a neutral gender (blending or balancing aspects of different genders) or not identifying with any gender (not male or female, perhaps not transgender either). It can also refer to a person's style of dress, appearance, or gender presentation.
b) Language: Nondiscriminatory language to describe relationships (e.g. 'spouse' and 'partner' are gender-neutral alternatives to the gender-specific words 'husband' and 'wife'), and language that can be appropriately used to refer to more than one gender (e.g., 'Police officer' or 'Congressperson' instead of 'policeman' and 'congressman'). Gender neutral pronouns are pronouns that neither reveal nor imply the gender or sex of a person (as opposed to gender-specific pronouns like 'she', 'he', 'her' and 'his'). While these exist in many languages (Traditional Chinese does not use gendered pronouns), there are no universally accepted gender-neutral pronouns in English. Two that have come into use, especially in the trans community, are 'ze' (or 'zie') for she/he, and 'hir' for his/her. (See ze, hir)

Gender Queer (Genderqueer) - a) A person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses gender altogether. A label for people who bend/break the rules of gender and blur the boundaries.
b) a rejection of the gender binary (male/female) in favor of a more fluid, nontraditional identity.

Gender variant/ Gender nonconforming - a) Displaying gender traits that are not normatively associated with their biological sex. (“Feminine” behavior or appearance in a male is gender-variant as is “masculine” behavior or appearance a female.) Gender-variant behavior is culturally specific.
b) A person who does not conform to traditional gender roles, norms, or expectations, or who presents a gender other than the traditional 'male' or 'female' genders.

Gynophile - An individual (regardless of sex/gender identity) who is fond of or attracted to women. (Related: Androphile)  


Heteronormative - A pervasive and institutionalized ideological system that naturalizes heterosexuality as universal in order to maintain hegemony over other non-normative sexualities and ways of identity construction.

Heterosexism - Assuming people to be heterosexual, therefore marginalizing persons who do not identify as heterosexual. It is also believing heterosexuality to be superior to homosexuality and all other sexual orientations.

Heterosexuality - Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to a sex other than one's own. Individuals identifying as heterosexual are also referred to as "straight."

Heterosexual Privilege - The benefits granted automatically to heterosexual people that are denied to or not automatic for gay men and lesbians. These can be formal (such as the legal right to marry or visit a partner in the hospital), or informal (the ability to safely hold hands with a partner in public).

Homophobia - The irrational fear and intolerance of people who are homosexual or of homosexual feelings within one's self. This assumes that heterosexuality is superior.

Homosexual - See Offensive Terminology to Avoid. (See instead: gay, lesbian, queer, sexual orientation, and affectional orientation).


Intersex - a) The biological sex of a person born with ambiguous genitalia.
b) One whose external genitalia at birth do not match the standards for male or female (e.g. enlarged clitoris, tiny penis), or one whose sex glands do not totally match the sex assigned at birth (e.g. male with ovarian tissue or female with testicular tissue), or one whose sexual development does not match the sex assigned at birth (e.g. development of penis or extensive facial hair in one assigned as female or the development of breasts in one assigned as male). The rate of intersex births is estimated at 1 in 2000. These disorders of sex development (DSD) include congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), androgen insensitivity syndrome, and Klinefelter syndrome.


King - Drag king (see drag)


Lesbian - Female identified person whose primary emotional and sexual attraction is to women. Self-identified lesbians do not necessarily have sex with women only.

LGBT - Common acronym for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community. May also refer to intersex, queer, gender queer, or questioning persons.


Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) - This term is often used when discussing sexual behavior. Is inclusive of all men who participate in this behavior regardless of how they identify their sexual orientation. The acronym MSM is conventionally used in medical literature. Also used: Women who have Sex with Women (WSW).

MTF - "Male-to-Female" transgender or transsexual person; Individuals who have started, are in the process, or have partially or fully transitioned from male to female. The MTF process does not necessarily include sex reassignment surgery.


Omnisexual - Openly Gay Describes people who self-identify as lesbian or gay in their personal, public and/or professional lives. Also openly lesbian, openly bisexual, openly transgender.

Outing - The act of publicly declaring (sometimes based on rumor and/or speculation) or revealing another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s consent. Considered inappropriate by a large portion of the LGBT community.


Queer - a) 1. An umbrella term to refer to all LGBT people; 2. A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid (able to change or shift back and forth over time); 3. A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer; Many older LGBT people feel the word has been hatefully used against them for too long and are reluctant to embrace it.
b)Originally a synonym for "odd", this word became a derogatory expression for gays in the 20th Century.  Even though many people still use "queer" as an anti-gay epithet, a movement emerged in the 1980s that calls itself queer. *Used in this way, queer means sexually dissident, but not necessarily gay. Many gays, transsexuals, bisexuals and even heterosexuals whose sexuality doesn't fit into the cultural standard of monogamous heterosexual marriage have adopted the "queer" label.

Queen - Drag queen (see drag), or high femme (see femme)


Sex - See biological sex.

Sex (or Sexual) Reassignment Surgery (SRS) - Surgery performed on some transsexual people to create genitalia resembling those of the sex with which the person identifies. In male-to-female transsexuals, this means removal of the penis and testes and creation of a vulva and vagina. In female-to-male transsexuals, this means removal of the uterus, tubes and ovaries, and often creation of a penis, testes, and scrotum.

Sexual Identity - What people call themselves with regard to their sexuality and who they are sexually or erotically attracted to. Labels include “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “bi,” “queer,” “questioning,” “undecided,” “heterosexual,” “straight,” and “asexual.” Sexual identity evolves through a multistage developmental process, which varies in intensity and duration depending on the individual. Our sexual behavior and how we define ourselves (our identity) is usually a choice. Sexual identity also refers to a person’s erotic and affectional response to another with respect to gender: someone may be attracted to others who identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, androgynous, or transgender.

Sexual Orientation - The scientifically accurate term for an individual’s enduring physical, (also Orientation) romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual (straight) orientations. Avoid the offensive term “sexual preference,” which is used to suggest that being gay or lesbian is voluntary and therefore “curable.”


Transgender - a) An umbrella term for transsexuals, cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, gender queers, and people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman. Transgender is not a sexual orientation; transgender people may have any sexual orientation. It is important to acknowledge that while some people may fit under this definition of transgender, they may not identify as such.
b) Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the difference between biological sex, which is one's body (genitals, chromosomes, etc.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity. Often, society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same thing. But, gender and sex are not the same thing. Transgender people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. For example, a female with a masculine gender identity or who identifies as a man.

Two Spirit - Term adopted by the Native LGBT Two Spirit community for persons claiming both sexes or genders. In many Native American tribes these are spiritual leaders, healers and teachers, and are very special people in their tribes, very respected and very much leaders. More than 160 tribal languages have terms for men who live as women and/or women who live as men. This phenomenon was driven underground by the negativity of Western culture toward this kind of behavior, and particularly by the attempts by missionaries and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to destroy the Native culture and replace it with Western values.

For more information on LGBT terms please visit these other sites: GLAAD, Gender Equality Resource Center, and the Healthy People Appendix.