What is the meaning of LGBT or LGBTQ?

You may have heard the phrase LGBT or LGBTQ, but aren’t sure what it means. LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and sometimes, questioning folks.

Let’s break those down.

L is for LESBIAN. Women who identify as lesbian are physically attracted to some women.

G is for GAY. Men who identify as gay are physically attracted to some men.

B is for BISEXUAL. People who identify as bisexual are physically attracted to some women and some men – not necessarily equally. They may be more attracted to men than women or vice versa. They may be attracted to masculinity or femininity.

T is for TRANSGENDER. The term transgender isn’t as simple to define. Transgender most commonly refers to someone whose gender identity (brain) doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth (anatomy). For example, a person who was assigned female at birth (anatomy), but has the gender identity (brain) of a male is a transgender person. Some people who identify as transgender transition and some don’t (for lots of reasons). However, transgender is also used as an umbrella term describing folks whose gender identity and/or gender expression don’t match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Q is for QUEER. The term queer was derogatory for as long as we can remember. However, there are people who are now identifying as queer in a positive way.

They are identifying as queer for lots of reasons, but two most common reasons are 1) they have multiple intersectional identities in their sexuality, so queer serves as an umbrella term for them. That means they could have an androgynous gender expression and identify as gay. For them, it means, I don’t identify as straight and cisgender and 2) it serves as a rejection of our western perception of sexuality which is generally one of binary (either or) boxes. Folks need more room than the “boxes” allow. By boxes we mean straight vs. gay, male vs. female, feminine vs. masculine, cisgender vs. transgender. Some people fit neatly into those boxes and some people don’t.

Queer can still be used as a derogatory term, so it shouldn’t be used to describe someone else (unless they identify with that term), but instead the term queer serves as a self-identitifier. There also seems to be a generational component to the use of the term queer. It is typically used by younger generations and not so much by the older generations. Some older LGBT people would say they appreciate the nuance of using the term queer, but don’t identify as queer and never will. They just can’t get past how negatively it was used against them in the past.

Q is for QUESTIONING. A person who identifies as questioning is not “deciding if they are LGBTQ”, but rather questioning how they identify and when and how they want to disclose their identity to the world.

We always say it’s not like going out to dinner and deciding if you’re going to have chicken or pasta for dinner. They aren’t sitting down making a pros and cons list and deciding whether they want to be LGBTQ. Whether you’re 5, 15, or 55, you’ve heard things about LGBTQ people. You’ve heard things from your family of origin, your faith community, your teachers and administrators at school, your peers, and the media. It shouldn’t surprise us that for some people who realize (at whatever age) that they may identify as LGBTQ, it may take them some time to unpack what they’ve internalized about LGBTQ people and also how they identify (ie bisexual or pansexual). It’s during that time period of self-discovery that some people may identify as questioning.

More about transgender people……

Some transgender folks choose to socially transition (which is available to any person at any age) by changing their gender expression to reflect their gender identity. Changing gender expression may include clothing, the presence or absence of facial hair and/or makeup, and/or hairstyle. Some transgender folks choose to medically transition (which is available to any person who has reached puberty). Medical transitions typically supplement a social transition and may include hormone blockers which stop the wrong puberty, cross hormones, and/or surgery. Surgery can include facial feminization surgery, trach shave, orchiectomy, or vaginoplasty.

People who identity as transgender may define themselves in lots of different ways. You may have heard the term transsexual. There are still some folks who identify with this term. However, it seems that fewer young people identify as transsexual. There are many reasons for that, but the 2 most common are 1) it has the word “sex” in it which gets people focusing on sexual orientation and sexual behavior which have nothing to do with a person’s gender identity and 2) it was originally coined for people who had undergone gender confirmation surgery, so some feel it took on a bit of a hierarchical connotation (ie Sally is transsexual as if Emily who hasn’t had surgery was somehow less transgender because she hasn’t undergone surgery). It doesn’t mean that every person who identifies as transsexual thinks of themselves as “more transgender” than anyone else and everyone is certainly free to self-identify with whatever term feels most comfortable for them.

You may have also seen terms like FtM (or female to male), MtF (or male to female), trans man, and/or trans woman. These can be a bit confusing at first, but the concept is really that the last initial or term is how someone identifies which means that someone who identifies as FtM or trans man was assigned female at birth, but identifies and is transitioning to male. Whereas, someone who identifies as MtF or trans woman was assigned male at birth, but identifies and is transitioning to female.


Anatomy is the makeup of our external and internal reproductive organs, our chromosomes, and hormones. Most people (especially in western society) think of anatomy as a binary concept – meaning that there are two and only two options, and they assume that all of us are either male or female.


Most people’s anatomy is exclusively male or female, however some people are born with intersex conditions which means they have some male and female anatomy, chromosomes and/or hormones. As fetuses, we all start out as female. At a certain point in gestation, sometimes androgens are introduced and the fetus is masculinized. Intersex conditions can be part of someone’s external or internal reproductive organs, chromosomes, and/or hormones. Some intersex conditions are visible at birth because they are part of one’s external reproductive anatomy. However, most intersex conditions are internal as part of someone’s internal reproductive organs, chromosomes, and/or hormones.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is the internal sense of what gender we are. This is also oftentimes thought of as a binary concept and that all people either identify as male or female. Many people do identify as male or female in their gender identity, but not all people do. There are countless ways that people identify in terms of their gender identity. There are new ways that people are describing their lived experiences every day. A few of the most common gender identities that differ from male and female are:

  • Non-Binary. People who identify as non-binary describe not being strictly male or female. As for pronouns, they may use female or male pronouns or they may prefer to use the gender neutral pronoun of they/them/theirs – yes, as a singular pronoun.
  • Genderqueer. This identity is similar to a nonbinary identity and sometimes is considered an umbrella terms for people whose gender identity as being outside of, or not included within, or beyond the binary of male and female. Some people describe being genderqueer as identifying with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.
  • Two-Sprit. People who identify as two-spirit are generally native/indigenous. People who identify as two spirit were very revered in their tribes and were often considered mentors and healers because of their unique world view.
  • Gender Fluid. People who identify as gender fluid describe themselves as being fluid between (or among) genders. This means different things for different people.
  • Agender. People who identify as agender describe themselves as being without a gender or being genderless and will oftentimes use gender neutral pronouns.


Gender expression is how we communicate our gender to the world. We do it in obvious ways like with our clothing, hairstyle, presence and absence of facial hair or makeup. We also do it in more subtle ways like with our tone and pitch of voice, our gait, tattoos, and piercings. There are many types of gender expression, including masculine,  feminine, gender fluid (at times masculine and other times feminine), genderqueer (at times masculine and feminine at once), and gender neutral or androgynous (as neither masculine or feminine).


Sexual orientation is our physical, romantic and emotional attraction to others. Our sexual behavior is what sexual activity, if any, we choose to participate in. A decision to be monogamous (or not) in a relationship is a part of our sexual behavior and is not related to our sexual orientation.

  • Lesbian. Women who identify as lesbian are attracted to some women.
  • Gay. Men who identify as gay are attracted to some men.
  • Bisexual. People who identify as bisexual are attracted to some men and some women – although not necessarily equally. They can be attracted more to men than women or vice versa. They can also be attracted to masculinity or femininity.
  • Polysexual. People who identify as polysexual are attracted to some people of many genders.
  • Pansexual. People who identify as pansexual are attracted to some people of all genders. They may be attracted to someone who is transgender or has an intersex condition. They are seeking a soul mate and the best way this orientation is described is that it’s “hearts not parts.”
  • Demisexual. People who identify as demisexual aren’t physically attracted to anyone at first. Once they have a deep enough emotional and romantic relationship with someone, they can develop physical attraction. People who identify as demisexual can be in relationships with people who identify as men, women, both or neither.
  • Asexual. People who identify as asexual aren’t physically attracted to any gender. Being asexual doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t have sex.