ally – Someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own.

asexual – Someone who generally does not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people can experience sexual arousal, romantic attraction and desire intimacy, but do not feel the need to act out those feelings in a sexual, physical way. Asexuality should not be confused with celibacy which is a distinct choice to not have sex. (For more information check out The Asexual Visibility & Education Network.)

Bi-gendered – Someone who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

bisexual – an adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex or the opposite sex.

cisgender – referring to an individual who has a match between the gender they were assigned at birth and the roles and behaviors considered by society to be appropriate to their particular sex.

cisgenderism – Assuming every person to be cisgender therefore marginalizing those who identify as trans* in some form. It is also believing cisgender people to be superior, and holding people to traditional expectations based on gender, or punishing or excluding those who don’t conform to traditional gender expectations.

civil union – is a 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.

closeted – a closeted person and the expression ‘in the closet’ describes an LGBTQ person who hides their sexual orientation or gender identity from some or all people.

coming out – the process of disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity to some or all people.

cross-dresser – A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender. Avoid using the older term ‘transvestite’ which is now considered a derogatory term.

drag king – used to refer to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.

drag queen – used to refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also used as slang, sometimes in a derogatory manner, to refer to all transgender women.

dyke – (slang) referring to a lesbian or lesbianism regardless of the person’s actual sexual identity. Originally, it was a derogatory label for a masculine or butch woman, and this usage still exists. However, it has also been re-appropriated as a positive term implying assertiveness and toughness, or simply as a neutral synonym for lesbian, regardless of individual gender expression.

fag – (slang) is a shortened version of the word faggot and is a pejorative term and common homophobic slur used primarily in North America against homosexual males. The word has many meanings worldwide, like ‘bundle of sticks,’ ‘cigarette’  or as a culinary term for seasoning added to a meal. The etymology of the word faggot meaning homosexual is unclear, though the earliest known written reference was in 1914 as a contemptuous word for ‘woman.’ Some gays have ‘reclaimed’ the word, but many still reject it. GLSEN’s ‘Think Before You Speak campaign is an example of the efforts made by the gay community to stop it’s popular usage.

gay – an adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex or gender. Avoid identifying gay people as “homosexuals” an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.

gender – 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.

gender expression – How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

Gender Dysphoria – In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which replaced the outdated entry “Gender Identity Disorder” with Gender Dysphoria, and changed the criteria for diagnosis. The necessity of a psychiatric diagnosis remains controversial, as both psychiatric and medical authorities recommend individualized medical treatment through hormones and/or surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. Some transgender advocates believe the inclusion of Gender Dysphoria in the DSM is necessary in order to advocate for health insurance that covers the medically necessary treatment recommended for transgender people.

gender fluid – A person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or outside of societal, gender-based expectations.

gender identity – An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

gender-neutral / gender-inclusive – Inclusive language to describe relationships (“spouse” and “partner” instead of “husband/boyfriend” and “wife/girlfriend”), spaces (gender-neutral/inclusive restrooms are for use by all genders), pronouns (“they” and “ze” are gender neutral/inclusive pronouns) among other things.

gender non-conforming – A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

gender variant – A synonym for “gender diverse” and “gender non-conforming”; “gender diverse” and “gender non-conforming” are preferred to “gender variant” because variance implies a standard normativity of gender.

genderism – The system of belief that there are only two genders (men and women) and that gender is inherently tied to one’s sex assigned at birth. It holds cisgender people as superior to transgender people, and punishes or excludes those who don’t conform to society’s expectations of gender.

genderqueer – A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.

hate crime – is a crime (usually an act of violence) where the victim is targeted because of their perceived membership in a certain social group, race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

heterosexuality – Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to a sex other than your own. Commonly thought of as “attraction to the opposite sex” but since there are not only two sexes (see “Intersex” and “Transsexual”), this definition is inaccurate.

heterosexism – is a term that applies to a system of negative attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of heterosexual sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that everyone is heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the norm and therefore superior. Heterosexism as discrimination ranks gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people as second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, and social equality in the majority of the world’s jurisdictions and societies.

heterosexual privilege – Benefits derived automatically by being (or being perceived as) heterosexual that are denied to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queers and all other non-heterosexual sexual orientations.

homophobia – is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards LGBQ people. Definitions refer variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of a perceived non-heterosexual orientation.

internalized homophobia – when LGBQ individuals are subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing they are true.

internalized oppression – The process by which an oppressed person comes to believe, accept, or live out the inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group.

Intersex – A term used for people who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Intersex conditions are also known as differences of sex development (DSD).

invisible minority – A group whose minority status is not always immediately visible, such as some disabled people and LGBTIQ people. This lack of visibility may make organizing for rights difficult.

lesbian – 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.

lifestyle – Inaccurate term used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives. As there is no one straight lifestyle, there is no one lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender lifestyle.

marginalized – Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, is a non-profit ally group whose mission is to ‘promote the health and well-being of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender persons − while providing support and information to their families and friends.’

pangender – A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.

pansexual – A sexual orientation that refers to people who are attracted to individuals regardless of their gender or gender expression. Pansexuality widely rejects the gender binary.

polyamory – the practice of having multiple open, honest love relationships.

Queer – A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender people. Some use queer as an alternative to “gay” in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term does not convey a sense of gender. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.

sex – A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Common terms are “male, “female” and “intersex.”

Sex Reassignment Surgery: Surgical procedures that change one’s body to better reflect a person’s gender identity. This may include different procedures, including those sometimes also referred to as “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) or “bottom surgery” (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part of their transition. “Sex change surgery” is considered a derogatory term by many.

Sexual Orientation: A term describing a person’s attraction to members of the same sex and/or a different sex, usually defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual.

Transgender – An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. 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. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” or “transgender” is often viewed as disrespectful.)

Transgender Man – A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man.

Transgender Woman – A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman.

Transition – The time when a person begins to living as the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were assigned at birth, which often includes changing one’s first name and dressing and grooming differently. Transitioning may or may not also include medical and legal aspects, including taking hormones, having surgery, or changing identity documents (e.g. driver’s license, Social Security record) to reflect one’s gender identity. Medical and legal steps are often difficult for people to afford.

Transsexual – An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seeks to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical.

Transvestite – An outdated term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory.

Two-Spirit – A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.


Many definitions have been borrowed from: GLAAD, GLSEN, the NCTE and The Gender Equity Resource Center at UC Berkley.