LGBTQ: What does it mean?

LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning. Kids Help Phone uses this acronym because it’s shorter and easier to write. This section is for anyone in the LGBTQQIP2SAA community, or anyone else who wants to learn more!

We know that while you may use any of the words under the LGBTQQIP2SAA umbrella to describe yourself, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel part of the LGBTQQIP2SAA community as a whole, and that’s OK. We support you in using the language that fits best for you.

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation describes the way a person feels toward people of a particular (or more than one) gender both physically and emotionally.

For example, one sexual orientation is heterosexual or straight, which means being physically and emotionally attracted to people of the opposite gender. Another sexual orientation is gay, which means being physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity describes the way a person feels about their gender — including their body — and the ways they feel they’re expected to behave within that body. In other words, gender identity describes how you relate to your body — and in particular, the body parts traditionally used to define a male or female body — as well as how you feel about the roles males and females are expected to play.

For example, some people identify as cisgender, which means they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Other people identify as transgender, which means they identify differently from their birth-assigned gender.

What’s the difference between sex and gender?

Sex is a term that’s usually used to talk about a person’s biology, or what body parts are used to assign their gender at birth (e.g. what visible sex organs a person is born with, like a penis or vagina).

Gender is a term that’s usually used to talk about how a person feels inside (e.g. if a person feels like a female, a male, neither a female nor a male, both a female and a male or somewhere in between). The way a person’s gender is expressed can involve things such as the name or pronoun they use (e.g. he, she, they, etc.) and the types of clothes they wear.

What does LGBTQ stand for?

Sexual orientations and gender identities that aren’t heterosexual or cisgender are often described by the acronym LGBTQ. It stands for:

  • •    L - Lesbian: a female-identified person who is physically and emotionally attracted to other females.
  • •    G - Gay: a male-identified person who is physically and emotionally attracted to other males. Gay is also used as a broad term to describe people attracted to someone of the same gender. 
  • •    B - Bisexual/Bi: a person who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of more than one gender and who identifies as bisexual (bi).
  • •    T - Transgender/Trans: transgender (trans) is a term used by people who identify with a gender that is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. People whose gender identity falls outside of the gender binary (the idea that there are only two genders — male and female) may also call themselves trans. Since trans is a word used to describe identity, a person has to identify with the term (believe it’s the best way to describe themselves) for it to be applicable. No one else can decide a person is or isn’t trans. Other terms to describe gender identity that may be preferred by some people include genderqueer, gender fluid and androgynous.
  • •    Trans is not a sexual orientation — it’s a gender identity. “T” (for transgender/trans) is grouped with the sexual orientations in LGBTQ for many reasons, including shared civil and human rights activism and similar experiences of discrimination.
  • •    Q - Queer: queer is a broad term that includes all sexual orientations and gender identities within the LGBTQ community, including those who don’t identify with any other identity in LGBTQ. The term queer can be both positive and negative. Historically, queer was used as an insult, but it has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community to self-identify in a positive way.
  • •    Q - Questioning: some people may feel unsure about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They may describe themselves as questioning. They may be questioning until they identify with a particular identity or continue to be questioning throughout their lives.

What are some other terms to know?

LGBTQ is only one of the acronyms used to describe the diverse communities of people who don’t identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender. To better represent this diversity, some people prefer other acronyms, including LGBTQQIP2SAA, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two Spirit, Androgynous and Asexual. Here’s more information, including other terms to know:

Sexual orientations

Asexual (ace): a person who doesn’t experience physical attraction to other people, but may still have emotional attraction to others.

Pansexual (pan): a person who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of all gender identities and who identifies as pansexual (pan).

Gender identities

Agender: a person who doesn’t identify with any gender, or identifies as being genderless. Their gender identity may live outside of the gender binary (i.e. male/female). Agender people may or may not identify as transgender.

Androgynous (androgyne): a person whose gender expression (e.g. clothing, hairstyle, etc.) doesn’t fall into the gender binary (i.e. male/female), or falls somewhere in between male and female.

Cisgender: cisgender describes the gender identity of people who feel like their gender matches the one they were assigned at birth. A person whose gender is assigned female at birth, and who also identifies as female throughout their life, is an example of a cisgender person.

Gender fluid: a person whose gender identity is on a sliding scale — they may shift between genders or express multiple genders at the same time.

Genderqueer and non-binary: genderqueer is a term that includes many different gender expressions — it can describe anything that doesn’t “fit” into society’s view of male or female. Individuals who identify as genderqueer may identify with both male and female genders, move between genders or reject these categories or the concept of gender altogether. Those who identify as genderqueer may or may not also identify as transgender.

More common terms

Ally: an ally is a person who doesn’t identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, but supports the rights and safety of those who do.

Aromantic (aro): aromantic is a romantic orientation (who a person is emotionally attracted to). Aromantic describes a person who doesn’t experience emotional attraction (feelings like love, connection, etc.) to others.

Intersex: intersex describes when a person is born with both male and female sex organs or other sexual characteristics. Some intersex individuals are assigned a gender at birth that they’re raised as, which may or may not fit with how they view their gender identity.

Polyamory: a relationship style in which individuals have intimate relationships with more than one person at once. This happens with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

Romantic orientation: romantic orientation refers to how people are emotionally attracted to others (feelings like love, connection, etc.). A person’s romantic orientation may be the same as, or different than, their sexual orientation.

Two Spirit (2 Spirit or 2S): a person with both a feminine and a masculine spirit living in the same body. It’s an important term within some Indigenous cultures and some Indigenous people use it to describe their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or spiritual identity.

However you identify — both your sexual orientation and gender identity — is OK. If you have questions about sex, gender, LGBTQ or anything else, you can talk to a parent/caregiver, friend or Kids Help Phone counsellor.

If you would like to know more about this topic, or would like to speak with a professional counsellor, connect confidentially and anonymously with us by phone or Live Chat.


If you are unable to reach a counsellor due to high call volume, please text 686868 to connect confidentially with a volunteer Crisis Responder.