Glossary of Terms

Gay: The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, and emotional attractions are to people of the same gender (gay men, gay people). Many prefer lesbian to describe gay women. Avoid homosexual, an outdated clinical term that has become an anti-gay slur.

Lesbian: A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and emotional attraction is to other women. Use as a noun to describe women (a lesbian, lesbians) or as an adjective in other contexts (lesbian couple, lesbian fiction)

Bisexual: The adjective used to describe a person who is capable of physical, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction to men and women (bisexual people, bisexual woman). The term bi can be helpful in contexts where an emphasis on sex is not appropriate.

LGBT/GLBT: Acronyms often used for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender because they are inclusive of the larger community. Explain the acronym before using with unfamiliar audiences.

Allies: Straight (or non-LGBT) people who respect, support, and defend LGBT people and who work actively to help eliminate prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender expression.

Sexual Orientation: The term for a person’s attraction (emotional, physical, and romantic) to members of the same and/or opposite gender (gay, straight, bisexual). Avoid sexual preference or gay lifestyle, inaccurate, offensive terms used to suggest that being gay is a choice.

Queer: Traditionally a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT people to describe themselves. However, it is not universally accepted even among LGBT people and should be avoided except in discussions with people who identify as queer.

Coming Out: A lifelong process of self acceptance. People forge a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity first to themselves and then may reveal it to others. Publicly identifying one’s own sexual orientation may not be part of coming out. LGBT people often begin by coming out to people they see as allies.

Questioning: Describes those who are in the process of understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Closeted: When a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status is not widely or publicly known, he or she is said to be closeted or in the closet.

Outing: The act of publicly declaring someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity against his/her will. Considered offensive by many in the LGBT community.

Same-Gender Loving (SGL): Used in some communities of color, this term refers to someone who experiences physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same gender. Do not use the term gay or bisexual to describe someone who identifies as same-gender loving.

Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia: Terms used to describe feelings of fear toward gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Prejudice or intolerance is usually a better description of broader anti-LGBT sentiment.

Transgender: An adjective to describe people whose gender identity and gender expression are different from the sex they were assigned at birth (transgender people, transgender woman, transgender man). Transgender people may be gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual. Some people prefer the term trans because it is more inclusive of the wide range of transgender experiences. Avoid transgenders (noun) or transgendered (noun or adjective).

Gender Identity: One’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Gender Expression: Refers to the visible aspects (such as appearance, clothing, speech, and behavior) of a person’s gender identity. Typically, transgender people seek to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex. Employment policies that include gender expression are designed to protect those (including non-transgender people) who express their gender in ways that may not correspond with their biological sex.

Transition: Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure but a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following cultural, legal, and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgical alteration.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS): Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of gender transition. Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have sex reassignment surgery. Avoid sex-change operation, an offensive, outdated term for SRS.

Cross-dressing: To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it permanently. Cross-dresser should not be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex or who intends to do so in the future.

Pronouns and names: it is important to use a transgender person’s chosen name. Often transgender people cannot afford a legal name change or are not yet old enough to change their name legally. They should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else who lives by a name other than their birth name (e.g. celebrities). Never put quotation marks around a transgender person’s name.

We also encourage you to ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use (he, him or his; she, her or hers). A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not they have taken hormones or had surgery, should always be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.