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LGBTQ+ History Month: Understanding LGBTQ terms and definitions

As we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, Ellen shares the meaning of the LGBTQ+ alphabet and why getting the definitions right is so important.

The month of February is LGBTQ+ History Month, a time to celebrate and remember the history of the LGBTQ+ community and the achievements of LGBTQ+ people in the journey towards building an equal and more inclusive society. When we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month there are often lots of terms and definitions used which are specific to the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s important to understand what it all means.

What does LGBTQIA+ mean?

Throughout the 20th century the gay community were often referred to through the widely used acronym, LGBT, 4 letters meaning: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans. These are often the groups that people are most familiar with. But throughout the years the alphabet has expanded to reflect and include other identities. Let’s go through the alphabet:

L – Lesbian – Refers to a woman who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards women. Some non-binary people may also identify with this term.

G – Gay – Refers to a man who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men. Also, a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality – some women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian. Some non-binary people may also identify with this term.

B – Bi – an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Bi people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including, but not limited to, bisexual, pan, queer, and some other non-monosexual and non-monoromantic identities.

T – Trans – An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.

Q – Queer/Questioning – Queer is a term used by those wanting to reject specific labels of romantic orientation, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can also be a way of rejecting the perceived norms of the LGBT community (racism, sizeism, ableism etc). Although some LGBT people view the word as a slur, it was reclaimed in the late 80s by the queer community who have embraced it. Questioning is the process of exploring your own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

I – Intersex – A term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes or whose biological attributes do not fit with societal assumptions about what constitutes male or female. Intersex people may identify as male, female or non-binary.

A – Asexual – A person who does not experience sexual attraction. Some asexual people experience romantic attraction, while others do not. Asexual people who experience romantic attraction might also use terms such as gay, bi, lesbian, straight and queer in conjunction with asexual to describe the direction of their romantic attraction.

It is important to note these definitions are no way inviolable and they can change to be more inclusive because at the end of the day that is the goal of the community. Furthermore, when it comes to identity terms trust the person who uses the term over any written definition. These terms are just a good place to start.

There a wide range of terms and definitions associated with the LGBTQ+ community. Check out this list of LGBTQ+ terms, as provided by the charity Stonewall.

Why it’s important to get the terms correct?  

The LGBTQ+ community values inclusivity (as should we all), therefore it is important a group does not feel like an outsider or “other”. Getting the names and definitions right is a very powerful step towards this.  Getting the terms correct is also powerful against historically offensive language used against the whole LGBTQ+ community, who are reclaiming language – such as the term “queer” – as their own. 

It is important to embrace narratives, terms and definitions within the community that make sense and support people, to ensure everyone and their identities can be embraced and we see a shift towards a more inclusive society. Then again, it is important to realise that language can always change and that these terms are not set in stone.  

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