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, but this section is for anyone in the LGBTTIQQ2SAA community, or anyone else who wants to be here!

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation describes the way a person feels toward people of a particular (or more than one) sex and/or 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 sex. Another sexual orientation is gay, which means being physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same sex.

What is gender identity?

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

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

What’s the difference between sex and gender?

Sex is a term that’s usually used to talk about a person’s biology or the body they’re assigned at birth (e.g. whether a person has male or female body parts).

Gender is a term that’s usually used to talk about how a person feels inside (e.g. if a person feels like a girl, a boy, neither a girl nor a boy, both a girl and a boy or somewhere in between). The way a person’s gender is expressed can involve things such as the name or pronoun they use 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 girls.
  • G - Gay: A male-identified person who is physically and emotionally attracted to other boys. Gay is also used as a broad term to describe people attracted to someone of the same sex (and is preferred over the word homosexual). 
  • B - Bisexual/Bi: A person who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of any sex and/or 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 their birth-assigned sex. People who don’t identify as either male or 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. Other terms to describe gender identity that may be preferred by some people include transsexual, gender queer, bigender or androgyne.
  • •    Trans is not a sexual orientation — it’s a gender identity. “T” (for transgender) 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 and gender minorities, 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 a way to insult lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, but it has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community to self-identify in a positive way. Some people who are LGBTQ are more comfortable with the term queer.
  • Q - Questioning: Some people may feel unsure about their sexual orientation 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 about identities not included in LGBTQ?

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 LGBTTIQQ2SAA which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirit, Asexual and Allies. Here are some other terms people may use to describe their sexual orientation or gender identity:

  • P - Pansexual: A person who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of all gender identities and biological sexes.
  • I - 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 sex at birth that they’re raised as, which may or may not fit with how they view their gender identity. 
  • 2S - Two-Spirit: 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.
  • A - Asexual: A person who doesn’t experience sexual/physical attraction to other people, but may still have romantic or emotional attraction — or relationships — with others. 
  • A - Allies: An ally is a person who doesn’t identify as LGBTQ, but supports the rights and safety of those who do.
  • Cisgender: Cisgender is the opposite of transgender. It describes the gender identity of people who feel like their gender matches their biological sex. A person who is born female, and who also feels like a girl throughout her life, is an example of a cisgender person.
  • Gender queer: Gender queer 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. These expressions may challenge gender binaries (the idea that there are only two genders). Individuals who identify as gender queer 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 gender queer may or may not also identify as transgender.
  • Cross-dresser: This term describes a person who dresses as a different gender than the sex they were assigned at birth. A person may dress this way occasionally or all of the time. Individuals may choose to cross-dress “underneath” — that is, with underwear — or from head-to-toe. (Cross-dresser isn’t a word that everyone is OK with, so be sure that someone uses it to describe themselves before you use it to describe them.)

If you would like to know more about this topic, feel free to speak or chat with a counsellor.