Terms & Definitions


  • LGBTQIA*: An acronym that typically stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally. The letters may also refer to genderqueer, questioning, and asexual, among others. The acronym is also commonly written as LGBT, GLBT, and other variations. The asterisk represents the inclusion of additional identities not represented in the acronym.
  • Out: Refers to varying degrees of being open about one’s sexual orientation and/or sex identity or gender identity.
  • Coming out: To recognize one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex identity, and to be open about it with oneself and with others.
  • Outing: Involuntary or unwanted disclosure of another person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.
  • Gender-inclusive: Nondiscriminatory language to describe relationships—e.g. “spouse” and “partner” are gender-neutral alternatives to the gender-specific words “husband,” “wife,” “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”
  • Queer: 1) An umbrella term to refer to all LGBTQIA* people 2) A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid. 3) A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer. Many older LGBT people feel the word has been hatefully used against them for too long and are reluctant to embrace it. However, younger generations of LGBT people have reclaimed the word as a proud label for their identity.
  • Questioning: The process of considering one’s own sexual orientation or gender identity. Usually, an individual is considering an identity that is not heterosexual or not cisgender.
  • Ally: A person who confronts homophobia, heterosexism, heterosexual privilege, biphobia, transphobia, and society’s gender norms in themselves and others on both a personal and institutional level.

Sexual Orientation

  • Sexual Orientation: The deep-seated direction of one’s sexual and/or erotic attractions. It is on a continuum and not a set of absolute categories. Sometimes referred to as affectional orientation or sexuality. Sexual orientation can change over time through a multistage developmental process.
  • Homosexuality: Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to the same sex or gender.
  • Heterosexuality: Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to a sex or gender other than your own. Commonly thought of as “attraction to the opposite sex” but since there are not only two sexes (see intersex), this definition is inaccurate.
  • Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, physically, and/or sexually attracted to women.
  • Gay: A man who is emotionally, romantically, physically, and/or sexually attracted to men. Colloquially used as an umbrella term to include all LGBTQIA* people. Generally preferred over the clinical term homosexual.
  • Bisexual: Also “bi.” A person who is attracted to two or more sexes or two or more genders, but not necessarily simultaneously or equally. This used to be defined as a person who is attracted to both genders or both sexes, but since there are not only two sexes (see intersex) and there are not only two genders (see transgender), this definition is inaccurate.
  • Asexual: A person experiences little or no sexual attraction towards any gender or sex.
  • Pansexual: A person who is fluid in sexual orientation and is attracted to others regardless of gender. A common phrase used with this community is “hearts not parts.”
  • Polyamory: Polyamory is the practice of having multiple open, honest relationships simultaneously.
  • Straight: A person who is attracted to a gender other than their own. Commonly thought of as “attraction to the opposite gender,” but since there are not only two genders (see transgender), this definition is inaccurate.
  • Fluidity: A notion or understanding that sexual orientation, sexuality, and gender are dynamic identities that may change over time as individuals discover more about themselves. Fluidity can be an identity, such as sexually fluid or gender fluid.


  • Sex: Refers to a person based on their anatomy (external genitalia, chromosomes, and internal reproductive system). Sex terms are male, female, transsexual, and intersex. Sex is biological, although social views and experiences of sex are cultural.
  • Gender: 1) 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. Words that refer to gender include: man, woman, transgender, masculine, feminine, and gender queer. 2) One’s sense of self as masculine or feminine regardless of external genitalia. Gender is often conflated with sex. This is inaccurate because sex refers to bodies and gender refers to personality characteristics.
  • Gender Expression: An expression of one’s own gender identity. This can include, but is not limited to, personality traits, behaviors, appearance, mannerisms, interests, hobbies, values, etc.
  • Gender Identity: The gender that a person sees themselves as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a gender. Gender identity is also often conflated with sexual orientation, but this is inaccurate. Gender identity does not cause sexual orientation. For example, a masculine woman is not necessarily a lesbian.
  • Transgender: Describes a person whose gender identity or expression differs from the social expectations assigned to their biological sex or gender. Transgender is sometimes considered an umbrella term for anyone whose gender identities transgress societal norms.
  • Trans*: an umbrella term covering the range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms. The asterisk after “trans” places a particular emphasis on all of the non-binary identities within the gender identity spectrum. Trans* people may or may not identify with a particular descriptive term (e.g., transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, MTF, FTM).
  • Biological Sex: The sex an individual is assigned at birth, determined by normalized categories of genetic and physical characteristics.
  • Cisgender: Refers to people whose sex and gender are congruent by predominant cultural standards: women who have female bodies, men who have male bodies. This term was created to challenge the privileging of such people relative to those who are transgender.
  • Genderqueer (or Gender Queer): A person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses gender altogether. A label for people who bend/break the rules of gender and blur the boundaries.
  • Gender-variant / Gender non-conforming: Displaying gender traits that are not normatively associated with a person’s biological sex. “Feminine” behavior or appearance in a male is gender-variant as is “masculine” behavior or appearance in a female. Gender-variant behavior is culturally specific.
  • Intersex: Someone whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. Formerly know as hermaphrodite, but this term in now considered outdated and derogatory.
  • Androgynous: A gender expression that expresses both masculine and feminine traits.


  • Bias: An inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment.
  • Biphobia: The irrational fear and intolerance of people who are bisexual.
  • Discrimination: The act of showing partiality or prejudice; a prejudicial act.
  • Hate crime: Hate crime legislation often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.
  • Heterosexism: Behavior that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people, reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is somehow better or more “right” than queerness, or makes other sexualities invisible.
  • Homophobia: The irrational fear and intolerance of people who are LGBTQIA* or of homosexual feelings within one’s self. This assumes that heterosexuality is superior.
  • Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.
  • Stereotype: An exaggerated, oversimplified belief about an entire group of people without regard for individual differences.
  • Transphobia: Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment and discrimination.


Compiled by Anna Warbelow from: The Pennsylvania State University LGBTA Student Resource Center and Sam Killermann’s The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender.