Key Terms - In Alphabetical Order

Ally: A non-lesbian, non-gay, non-bisexual, non-transgender individual whose attitudes and actions are anti-heterosexist and who works toward combating heterosexist practices and discourses, and homophobia, both on person and institutional levels.

Androgyny: Perspectives that support or an embodiment of a commitment to “feminine” and “masculine” characteristics, a blending of the two, or a trans-performance of one or the other in gender expression. An androgynous person may identify and appear as both male and female, or as neither male nor female, or as in between male and female. This person may or may not exhibit the behaviors of “feminine” or “masculine” thus making it difficult for others to place them into a specific gender category.

Anti-gay Violence: Bias-related violence and crimes committed against lesbians and gay males; includes physical assault, abuse, rape, vandalism, terrorism, and murder. (Such crimes are now reportable under Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act.)

Asexual: A sexual orientation describing individuals who do not experience sexual attraction.

Bisexual: A person who has a range of emotional, social, and psychological commitment and responses to members of both genders. A person who is attracted to both men and women, or to a set of qualities that do not necessarily line up with biological sex, public gender, or social life.

Civil Union: A commitment between life partners of the same sex. Partners have all the same legal protections, rights and responsibilities as male-female married couples.

Come(ing) Out: To declare to oneself and/or publicly affirm one’s homosexual identity, sometimes to one person in conversation, sometimes by an act that places one in the public eye. It is not a single event but instead a lifelong process. In each new situation, a gay man, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individual must decide whether or not to come out.

Crossdresser: Formerly called transvestites. Typically men (mostly heterosexual) who sometimes wear opposite-gender clothing for personal reasons. There are some women who crossdress also.

Domestic Partners: Adults who are not legally married, but who share resources and responsibilities for decisions, share values and goals, and have commitments to one another over a period of time. Definitions may vary among city ordinances, corporate policies, and even among those who identify themselves as domestic partners.

Drag Queen/Drag King: A person who performs gender for an audience, on a stage or a public event. Drag queens are biologically male and perform femininity on a stage, and drag kings are biologically female and perform masculinity on a stage.

Dyke: A derogatory slur for lesbians. Reclaimed by some lesbians as a term of pride.

Fag(got): A derogatory slur for gay men. Reclaimed by some as a term of pride. Derived from the word faggot(literally “small bundle of sticks”)-an allusion to the Inquisition-era practice of burning people at the stake for suspected homosexual practices.

FTM: A person born or assigned at birth as biologically female, who identifies as a male and who takes the sex gender, and identity of a male through dress, mannerisms, behavior, hormone therapy, and /or surgery.

Gay: While “gay” is sometimes used to refer to both men and women, it generally refers to men. Sometimes used derogatorily (i.e. “That’s so gay!”)

Gender: The social construction of masculinity and femininity in a specific culture in time. It involves gender assignment (the gender designation of someone at birth), gender roles (the expectations imposed on someone based on their gender), gender attribution (how others perceive someone’s gender), and gender identity (how someone defines their own gender).

Gender and Sexual Diversities: A broad construct that encompasses the complexity, fluidity and variability that are inherent in these parts of who we are as human beings. GSD is based on the notion that gender and sexuality are comprised of several inter-related components. Identity, expression and behavior related to biological sex, gender and sexuality.

Gender Bending: Now considered a defamatory statement. Dressing in such a way as to question the traditional feminine or masculine qualities assigned to articles of clothing or adornment. Gender bending may be part of “fashion”, or possibly a political statement.

Gender Binary: The social construction of gender in most societies in the world where gender is a dichotomy between male and female. Male and female gender expectations, roles, and functions are generally very rigid and the presence of alternate gender constructions are usually denigrated, ignored, or made oblivious.

Gender Dysphoria: A psychological term used to describe the feelings of pain and anguish that arise from a transgender person’s conflict between gender identity (internal experience) and biological sex (external experience).

Gender Expression: Refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, and emphasizing, de-emphasizing, or changing their bodies’ characteristics. Gender expression is not necessarily an indication of sexual orientation.

Gender Identity: The gender that people see 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.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID): The psychological classification found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) which is used to “ diagnose” trans people and children. GID is frequently, abusively and inappropriately used with children to “cure” homosexuality and enforce gender conformity. There is a current movement to have this diagnosis removed from the DSM-IV as trans people consider the label of mental illness as an incorrect assessment of their situation.

GenderQueer : A person whose performance of gender is not normative in relation to what is socially expected. This term became popular as increasing amounts of gender variant people voice discomfort in and exclusion from the transgender community.

Gender Roles: The socially constructed and culturally specific behavior and appearance expectations imposed on women (femininity) and men (masculinity).

Heteronormativity: An (often subconscious) assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and the attitudes associated with that assumption. Heterocentrism often shows up in unintentional ways in everyday life.

Heterosexism: The belief in the superiority of heterosexuality; the assumption that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is the correct sexuality.

Heterosexual: A person whose sexual orientation is toward members of the opposite gender; a person who has emotional, social, psychological and physical commitment and responses to members of the opposite gender.

Heterosexual Privilege: The benefits granted automatically to heterosexual people that are denied to gay men and lesbians.

Homophobia: A fear and hatred of gays, lesbians and bisexuals based on a lack of knowledge and cultural conditioning. It is also manifested as a fear of being perceived as lesbian, gay or bisexual, the fear of one’s own attraction for members of the same gender, or the fear of being gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Homosexual: A clinical term for people having emotional, physical, and sexual responses primarily to members of the same gender. Many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals find this term offensive because it is a clinical term assigned to them by others.

Institutional Oppression: Institutional arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another, illustrated through the use of government, economic systems, health systems, school systems, housing, media, and religion.

Internalized Oppression/Homophobia: The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate myths and stereotypes to the oppressed group.

Intersex/Intersexed/Intersexual: Someone born either with indeterminable genitalia and/or reproductive organs, and/or a chromosomal make up other than XX or XY. Intersex people used to be called “hermaphrodites” (a word from a combination of Hermes and Aphrodite-man and woman), but this term is historically associated with the physical description of “abnormality” and is no longer accepted the in the intersex community. Intersex people may or may not identify as members of the transgender community.

In the Closet: To be “in the closet” means to hide one’s identity in order to keep a job, a housing situation, friends, or in some other way to survive. Many LGBTQQIA individuals are “out” in some situations and “closeted” in others.

Lesbian: A woman who has emotional, social, psychological and physical commitment and responses to other women. “Lesbian” is one of the oldest and most positive terms for gay woman. Derived from the Greek Isle of Lesbos where the lesbian poet, Sappho, had a school in 400 B.C

LGBTQQIA: This acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and ally/asexual. Some people will change the order of the letters in this acronym and some will only use some of the letters. Recently, people have moved to putting the “L” at the front of the acronym as a way of addressing multiple areas of oppression that lesbians face as both women and homosexuals.

Lifestyle: The way individuals live their lives, such as an urban or rural lifestyle, an artistic lifestyle, an entrepreneurial lifestyle, a hedonistic lifestyle; not appropriately used to denote sexual orientation (just as there is no heterosexual lifestyle, there is not homosexual or gay lifestyle either); the phrase ‘homosexual lifestyle’ is often used by anti-gay groups to imply that sexual orientation is a matter of choice rather than of identity.

Marriage Equality: The civil right to marriage between two persons of the same biological sex and/or gender identity. Often preferable to the terms same-sex marriage or gay marriage.

MTF: Male-to-female (MTF): A person born or assigned at birth as biologically male, who self-identifies as female ad who takes the sex, gender, and identity of a female through dress, mannerisms, behaviors, hormone therapy, and/or surgery.

Outing: Disclosing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to others without permission (i.e. “He was outed at work”.)

Pansexual: Sexual attraction, sexual desire, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. Also known as omnisexual.

Partner or Significant Other: Terms most appropriate to use when referring to a gay or lesbian’s spousal equivalent. LGBTQQIA people may also use “girlfriend/boyfriend,” “lover,” “roommate,” “life partner,” “wife/husband,” or other terms when referring to their partners.

Queer: Once a derogatory term, the work “queer” has been embraced by the gay and lesbian community, and is used as an umbrella term for all sexual minorities. Use some caution, as many in the LGBTQQIA community consider it only appropriate that other LGBTQQIA people use the term.

Questioning: Being unsure of one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity; feeling uncomfortable with or unwilling or unable to self-categorize within traditional labels such as gay, straight, male, female, etc.

Safe Zone: A safe Space is a place where LGBTQQIA individuals are welcomed and admired. It is a space where LGBTQQIA individuals feel comfortable and secure being themselves. In a Safe Zone they can share who they are and about whom they may be involved, without fearing judgment, criticism, or ridicule. It is a space where one is confirmed about their identities and relationships. It is a space in which LGBTQQIA individuals may find support and resources for the pursuit of human rights as LGBTQQIA individuals as well.

Sex, or Sexual Identity: The identification of being biologically a man or woman, this is different from gender and gender identity.

Sexual Orientation: Emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction to others, which may be toward the same sex (homosexual), the other sex (heterosexual), or both sexes (bisexual). Innate sexual attraction. In all instances, use this term instead of Sexual Preference.

Stonewall & Pride Celebrations: On June 28, 1969, a routine raid on the Stonewall Bar on Christopher Street in New York City turned into a riot when patrons resisted. The patrons barricaded themselves in the bar. The riot escalated until reinforcements arrived. The riots continued for several evenings. This rebellion, begun by drag queens and bar patrons, marked the beginning of the modern gay and lesbian movement. Each June, Pride marches, rallies and celebrations are held throughout the nation commemorating Stonewall.


  1. An umbrella term that refers to people who transgress gender norms in various ways, including both homosexual and heterosexual transsexuals and transvestites.
  2. Refers to persons whose core gender identity, their self-perception as male or female is different that their biological sex and who live fulltime as the other sex. Their internal sense of self does not match their biological status.

Transition:The time period when a transgender individual shifts from expressing one gender to another in her/his personal life and workplace; involves several elements such as alternate dress, hormone therapy, voice training, and possibly surgery. For most individuals, the workplace transition is carefully planned; the planning will often include appropriate levels of management in the discussion, and the transition process may be weeks or months in length. The personal life transition may be more sudden.

Transsexual: Transgender persons who opt to have their bodies surgically and hormonally reconstructed to match their gender identity

Transvestite: A person who chooses to dress in the sex-role clothing of the other gender. Some believe that, unlike cross-dressers, transvestites have a genuine emotional need to cross-dress. Transvestites are generally heterosexual, married, and well educated.

Two-Spirit: A Native/American/Indian-First Nation term for people who blend the masculine and the feminine. Used to describe individuals who historically crossed gender boundaries and were accepted and at times revered by Native/First Nation cultures.