‘LGBT’ is a commonly used acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. You may also hear people say:
- LGBT+ ((lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and more)
- LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning)
- LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning and more)
- LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual)
- LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and more)
- LGBTQIAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and pansexual)
- LGBTQIAP+ ((lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual and more)
- MOGAI (marginalized orientations, gender alignments and intersex)
As you can see, different people have different names for the same thing. This is because it covers a huge array of different people, identities, and experiences.
And while some people (including many charities and news outlets) may use ‘LGBT’ for brevity, many others will use ‘LGBTQIA+’ in order to include as many people as possible. AIM for the Rainbow will be using LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and more). This is because it is concise, recognizable and includes (celebrates) a wide variety of different people that exist in the community (although still not all).
Here is a quick overview of some of the common identities you might have heard about.
A lesbian is a woman, either cis or trans who is sexually and romantically attracted to other women (both cis and trans). Some women prefer to call themselves ‘gay’, so it’s important to try and use the language that a person is comfortable with.
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as lesbians:
- Hannah Gadsby
- Lena Waithe
- Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
Although ‘gay’ is often used to refer to all people who have exclusive same-gender attraction, we will be focusing on gay men. A gay man is a man, either cis or trans, who is sexually and romantically attracted to other men (both cis and trans).
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as gay men:
- Lil Nas X
- Colton Haynes
- Billy Porter
A bisexual person is a person (both cis and trans) who is attracted to more than one gender. Many bisexual people use the term ‘bi’ to describe themselves. Although ‘bi’ originally meant ‘two’, ‘bisexuality’ was agreed by the community a few decades ago to describe attraction to two or more genders.
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as bisexual:
- Roxane Gay
- Sara Ramirez
- Alan Cumming
If a person is transgender, it means that their gender does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Many transgender people describe themselves as ‘trans’ – the most common terms you are likely to hear are ‘trans woman’ (a woman who was assigned male at birth) and ‘trans man’ (a man who was assigned female at birth).
Note: if your gender is the same as the sex you were assigned at birth (e.g. when I was born the doctors decided I was a girl, and I still identify as a girl today), then you are ‘cisgender’ or ‘cis’.)
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as trans:
- Laverne Cox
- Mj Rodriguez
- Lewis Hancox
‘Queer’ as an identity is different from the other identities on this page. This is because while some people identify only as queer, many different people (including gay people, bi people, trans people and asexual people) may identify as queer alongside their other identities.
‘Queer’ originally meant ‘odd’ or ‘strange’, but was reclaimed by the community many decades ago as an identity. There is a continuing debate around the word ‘queer’. Some people feel empowered by it. Some people feel insulted by it. But don’t let this affect your own identity. If you identify with ‘queer’, then do not be afraid to use that term.
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as queer:
- Janelle Monáe
- Jameela Jamil
- Elliot Page
If a person is intersex, it means they were born with biology that is not considered solely ‘male’ or ‘female’. This may mean that they have variations in their chromosomes, their hormones, or their physical characteristics (often genitals). Not all intersex people like to be included within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, and it is important to respect people’s individual wishes. However, as there are many intersex people who do identify with the community, it is included in the acronym.
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as intersex:
- Hanne Gaby Odiele
- Hida Viloria
An asexual person is a person (cis or trans) who experiences little to no sexual attraction. Many asexual people refer to themselves as ‘ace’. Asexuality means a lack of sexual attraction, rather than a lack of sexual contact or a lack of sexual desire. Many ace people do have, and enjoy, sex. Many ace people don’t have sex. This doesn’t make them any more or less asexual.
Note: Some people have argued that the term ‘a-spec’ was originally used by the autistic community (to refer to ‘autistic spectrum’), and that asexual people therefore shouldn’t use it. However, many autistic people argue that they do not use, nor have they heard people use, the term ‘a-spec’, and it is generally agreed that asexual and aromantic people may use ‘a-spec’ to describe their identity.
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as asexual:
- Yasmin Benoit
- Evan Edinger
- Emilie Autumn
A pansexual person is a person (either cis or trans) who is attracted to people regardless of gender. Some people who identify with this definition may still call themselves ‘bisexual’, but others feel that ‘pansexual’ is a term that fits better for them. It’s important to use the terms that individual people are comfortable with.
The general agreement on the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality is:
Bisexuality is attraction to more than one gender (which could mean all genders, or could mean some but not all genders) or attraction where someone’s gender is a factor.
Pansexuality is attraction regardless of gender or attraction where someone’s gender isn’t a fundamental factor.
Whether you feel more comfortable identifying as pansexual or bisexual, or using them both, you have the right to be proud of your identity.
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as pansexual:
- Joe Lycett
- Cara Delevingne
- Jazz Jennings
A non-binary person is a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. You may also hear the term ‘enby’. Many non-binary people see themselves as falling under the trans identity, as their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. However, not all non-binary people agree with this, so it’s important to respect personal preference.
Non-binary can be used as an umbrella term for a variety of different gender identities, that may include:
- Bigender: identifying as two genders
- Trigender: identifying as three genders
- Pangender: identifying as many or all genders
- Agender: identifying as having no gender
- Genderfluid: moving between gender identities
- Third gendered: not identifying as a named gender
- Genderqueer: not identifying with conventional gender distinctions
Here are some people you may have heard of who identify as non-binary:
- Owl and Fox Fisher
- Sam Smith
- Asia Kate Dillon
As you can see, the LGBTQIA+ umbrella is very wide indeed, and there are many identities that we haven’t had space to include.
The LGBTQIA+ world It includes many different people, of all sexualities and gender identities. As more people explore their gender and sexuality, more labels are coined and celebrated to refer to people’s experiences. Having a label that directly and accurately describes your experience of gender and sexuality can be extremely important.
Here are some books, websites, and YouTube videos you can use to find out even more about different labels and what they mean to different people.
The A–Z of Gender and Sexuality: From Ace to Ze by Morgan Lev Edward Holleb
LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel Madrone
Human Rights Campaign: www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms
Amnesty USA: www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/toolkit_LGBTglossary.pdf
The ABC’s of LGBT+ Series by Ash Hardell: http://bit.do/ABCsOfLGBT