Key Terminology

Common Terms, Acronyms, and Definitions in LGBT Campaigns

Sexual Orientation (n.)—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.

Gay (adj.)—The adjective used to describe people 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.

Lesbian (n. or adj.)—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.

Bisexual, Bi (n. or adj.)—A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender and to those of another gender. People may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.

LGBT/GLBT (adj.)—Acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.” LGBT and/or GLBT are often used because they are more inclusive of the diversity of the community. Care should be taken to ensure that audiences are not confused by their use. Ensure that the acronym is spelled out on first usage.

Queer (n. or adj.)—Traditionally a pejorative term, queer has been appropriated by some LGBT people to describe themselves. However, it is not universally accepted even within the LGBT community and should be avoided unless describing someone who self-identifies that way or in a direct quote. When Q is seen at the end of “LGBT,” it typically means queer and/or questioning.

Heterosexual (n. or adj.)—An adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to people of the opposite sex. Also straight.

Coming Out—A lifelong process of self-acceptance. People forge a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity first to themselves and then they may reveal it to others. Publicly sharing one’s identity may or may not be part of coming out.

Out (adj.)—A person who self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender in their personal, public, and/or professional lives. For example: Ricky Martin is an out pop star from Puerto Rico. Preferred to openly gay.

Gender Identity (n.)—One’s internal, personal sense of being male or female. For many transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Transgender, Trans (adj.)—An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the gender determined at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms.

Transition (n. or v.)—This is a complex process that occurs when a transgender person acts to align their presented gender with their internal sense of gender, often over a long period of time. Transitioning can include 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.

Cisgender (adj.)—A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is therefore an antonym of “trans-.”

Homophobia—Fear or discrimination of lesbians and gay men. Intolerance or prejudice is usually a more accurate description of antipathy toward LGBT people.

Biphobia—Fear or discrimination of bisexuals, often based on stereotypes, including inaccurate associations with infidelity, promiscuity, and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. This can be seen within the LGBT community, as well as in general society. Intolerance or prejudice is usually a more accurate description of antipathy toward bisexual people.

Transphobia—Fear or discrimination of transgender people. Intolerance or prejudice is usually a more accurate description of antipathy toward LGBT people.

Hate crime—A criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

RFRA—Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Laws that give religious exemptions to individuals and businesses, allowing them to use their religious beliefs to harm others or discriminate against them. RFRAs could allow businesses to turn away LGBT customers and government employees to refuse to perform their duties related to marriage for same-sex couples.

FADA—First Amendment Defense Act. Federal legislation that would allow federal contractors and government employees who do not support marriage equality to disregard federal laws and refuse to perform their jobs with regard to same-sex couples. In effect, this law would invalidate all federal policies protecting LGB people from discrimination.

Sources: Movement Advancement Project ( • GLAAD (


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