LGBTQ+ What The Letters Mean

The LGBTQIA+ acronym is used to describe either a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, emotional, and romantic attraction to another person — such as being straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Gender identity describes a person’s internal sense of being female, male, or someone outside of that gender binary. 

Dec 24, 2021 - 23:18
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LGBTQ+ What The Letters Mean

The LGBTQIA+ acronym is used to describe either a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, emotional, and romantic attraction to another person — such as being straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Gender identity describes a person’s internal sense of being female, male, or someone outside of that gender binary. 

It’s important to note that gender identity is not determined by one’s sex assigned at birth and that sex and gender are not the same.

As the world becomes more inclusive of people’s sexual orientation and gender identity, the letters within the LGBTQIA+ acronym have similarly evolved. Read on to discover the history behind this colorful acronym.

The original initialism: LGBT

Before the origin of “LGBT,” the language used to describe this community was actually quite limiting. During the 1950s and 1960s, people in this group were often referred to as the “gay community.” 

However, these years also proved to be a monumental time for advancements within the LGBTQIA+ community. The year 1969 is often seen as a turning point in American history in shifting attitudes and politics regarding sexuality. Political movements such as the Stonewall Riots brought attention throughout the United States and around the world regarding the injustice experienced within this community — it was a pivotal time for the “gay rights movement.”

As these movements progressed, people recognized that the term “gay” didn’t encompass all sexual orientations and gender identities. In the 1980s, the LGBT acronym gained popularity and was adopted by many activist organizations by the 1990s. Let’s review the meaning behind these original letters.

“L” stands for lesbian

The term “lesbian” describes a woman who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to other women.

“G” stands for gay

The term “gay” describes a person who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to people within the same gender.

“B” stands for bisexual

The term “bisexual” describes a person who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to people within more than one sex, gender, or gender identity.

“T” stands for transgender

The term “transgender” describes a person whose gender identity or expression is different than their sex assigned at birth. Transgender should be used as an adjective — not as a noun or a verb. 

Why was ‘LGBT’ incomplete?

Although the LGBT acronym was much more inclusive than terms used in the past, it still left out people who don’t identify with being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. And that’s where the “Q” came in.

“Q” stands for Queer: an adjective used by some people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual or straight. It’s an umbrella term that includes people who have non-binary or gender-fluid identities. 

  • Non-binary describes a person whose gender identity falls outside of strictly male or strictly female. 

  • Gender fluid describes a person whose gender identity or expression changes over time. 

  • Genderqueer describes a person who does not follow static categories of gender, embracing a fluidity of gender identity and, oftentimes, sexual orientations. 

  • Gender non-conforming describes a person who does not abide by traditional or cultural expectations — in regards to appearance or behavior — of their gender. 

In a 2018 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) survey, over 12% of LGBTQ youth identified as non-binary, and 9% identified as genderqueer or gender non-conforming. 

“Q” can also stand for Questioning: When “Q” comes at the end of LGBTQ, it can also mean questioning. Questioning is a term used to describe a person who is exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

How has LGBT changed to LGBTQIA+ over the years?

History has shown that LGBT continues to be an evolving abbreviation as the world gains a better understanding of people’s sexual orientation, identity, gender, and expression. LGBTQIA+ has become a prevalent acronym adopted by the community. Let’s discuss what these additional letters mean. 

“I” stands for intersex: a term used to describe a person who is born with differences in their sex traits or reproductive anatomy that don’t fit typical definitions of female or male. There may be differences in regards to genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, and/or secondary sex characteristics (e.g., pubic hair, breasts, facial hair, etc.).

“A” stands for asexual: a term used to describe a person who lacks sexual attraction or desire for other people. It’s different from celibacy, in which people make a choice to abstain from sexual activity.

“+” stands for plus: The “+” sign is a symbol that represents members of the community who identify with a sexual orientation or gender identity that isn’t included within the LGBTQIA acronym. It’s an inclusive way of representing gender and sexual identities that letters and words cannot yet fully describe.

How will the LGBTQ acronym continue to evolve?

Although the LGBTQ acronym has been adopted by both the HRC and GLAAD, some people may say that it doesn’t fully represent the entire community. 

As society continues making progress in improving inclusivity within the LGBTQIA+ community, our understanding of different sexual orientations and gender identities will continue expanding. The goal is to continue fostering an inclusive and welcoming community where everyone feels appropriately represented.

Understanding LGBTQ2S+ and other expanded acronyms

Since there are so many different identities, it’s difficult to fully capture everyone’s sexual orientation and gender. The acronym has continued to change over the years and now includes the following:

LGBTQ2S+

This expanded acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and two-spirit. 

“2S” stands for two-spirit: a term that traditionally originated from Native American culture that describes people who are male, female, or intersex and have both a male and female spirit within them. It’s sometimes referred to as a third gender.

LGBTQQIP2SAA

The term stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, asexual, and ally.

“P” stands for pansexual: A term that describes a person who may have a physical, emotional, or romantic attraction to people of any gender. They may not experience these feelings at the same time or in the same way or level. 

The second “A” stands for ally: A term that describes a person who actively supports the LGBTQ community. It includes people who are straight or cisgender (a term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth) and those within the LGBTQ community.

Why are terminology and naming so important in the LGBTQIA+ community?

As the world gains a better understanding of people’s sexual and gender identities, the acronym may continue evolving to ensure that everyone is seen and included. Additionally, the acronym can help those with similar experiences connect with others — and help articulate what they’re feeling and experiencing through the terminology.

Using exclusionary terms such as the “gay community” should be avoided since it doesn’t accurately represent the community’s vast diversity. Acronyms such as LGBTQ or LGBTQIA+ are more inclusive of the sexual orientations and gender identities that exist. 

The bottom line 

As Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent activist in the Stonewall uprising, would say in response to people questioning her gender, “the ‘P’ stood for Pay it No Mind.”

Many advances have been made toward achieving equality within the LGBTQIA+ community. And parallel to that progress is the expansion of the words and letters used to describe people who are part of it. The acronym can help foster inclusion, connection, and a sense of identity.

References

Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2021). Definitions of common LGBTQ concepts and terms.

Asexual Visibility & Education Network. (n.d.). Overview.

View All References (11)

Baumann, J. (n.d.). 1969: The year of gay liberation. The New York Public Library's Online Exhibition Archive.

GLAAD. (n.d.). Glossary of terms: LGBTQ.

GLAAD. (n.d.). How sexual orientation is different from gender identity.

History. (2017). Stonewall riots.

Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). Glossary of terms.

Human Rights Campaign. (2016). HRC officially adopts use of “LGBTQ” to reflect diversity of own community.

Human Rights Campaign. (2018). LGBTQ youth report.

Indian Health Service. (n.d.). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, (LGBTQ) and two-spirit health.

National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center. (n.d.). Caring for LGBTQ youth in clinical settings.

Marsha P. Johnson Institute. (n.d.). About Marsha P. Johnson.

Zak, E. (2013). LGBPTTQQIIAA+: How we got here from gay. Ms Magazine.

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