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LGBT Symbols

The following web sites provide information regarding common symbols of the LGBT community:

LGBT Terminology

An informal "dictionary" of commonly used words and phrases

Language is dynamic; it grows, changes, and develops. Language also creates and expresses meaning. This is particularly true with the language of diversity and terms (labels) we use to identify ourselves. Language must not demean, exclude or offend. We must allow others to self-identify, for definitions of terms vary for everyone. The following definitions are given to provide a starting point for discussion and understanding.

Please Note: It is important to respect people’s desired self-identifications. One should never assume another person’s identity based on that person’s appearance. It is always best to ask people how they identify, including what pronouns they prefer, and to respect their wishes.

LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQA, LGBTQAI, LGBTQQAI, TBLG: These acronyms refer to Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Ally, Intersex, and Questioning. Although all of the different identities within “LGBT” are often lumped together (and share sexism as a common root of oppression), there are specific needs and concerns related to each individual identity.

Advocate: A person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others, and support LGBTQ issues, concerns, and equal rights legislation.

Ally: Someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own. Reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals.

Androgony: Exhibiting the identity and/or appearance of both male and female, as neither male nor female, or as between male and female; exhibiting behaviors of either or both traditional genders; a descriptive term that many in the LGBTQ community find offensive.

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.

Bias: Prejudice; an inclinations or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment.

Biological Sex: A scientific system of categorizing some animals based on chromosomal structure, reproductive organs, or reproductive function. Usually, biological ses is assumed to be binaristic (male/female).

Biphobia: The irrational fear of, hatred of, aversion to, or discrimination against bisexual people. There is often biphobia in lesbian, gay, and transgender communities, as well in heterosexual communities.

Bisexual: a person who has significant romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions to members of both sexes. The frequency, intensity, or quality of attraction is not necessarily directed toward both sexes equally.

Camp: A form of humor in which one makes fun of one’s oppression by taking on and exaggerating stereotypes which the oppressor projects onto the oppressed. Camp makes fun of stereotypes and laughs at the sting of oppression.

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity and expression matches the gender identity typically associated with their biological sex. For example, a female who identifies as a woman.

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.

Coming Out: Coming out is the process of first recognizing and acknowledging a non-heterosexual orientation and then disclosing it to others. This usually occurs in stages and is a non-linear process. An individual may be out in some situations or to certain family members or associates and not others. Some may never come out to anyone beside themselves. The term is usually applied to members of the LGBT community, but heterosexual people can experience a similar process of coming to terms with their sexual orientation and/or their identity as an ally.

Cross-dressers: Men and women who enjoy wearing the clothes of and appearing as the other gender. A cross-dresser generally wants to relate, and be accepted, as a person of the gender he/she is presenting. While many are heterosexual, the use of cross-dressing in the gay drag culture is well-documented.

Discrimination: The act of showing partiality or prejudice; a prejudicial act.

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.

Dominant Culture: The cultural values, beliefs, and practices that are assumed to be the most common and influential.

Drag: The act of dressing in gendered clothing as part of a performance. Drag Queens perform in highly feminine attire. Drag Kings perform in highly masculine attire. Drag may be performed as a political comment on gender, as parody, or simply as entertainment. Drag performance does not indicate sexuality, gender identity, or sex identity.

Dyke: although once used negatively, this term has been reclaimed by some in the LGBT community to refer to lesbian or bisexual women.

Faggot: A pejorative term and common homophobic slur against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The word has been used in English since the late 16th century to mean "old or unpleasant woman," and the modern use may derive from this.

Family: Two or more persons who share resources, share responsibility for decisions, share values and goals, and have commitments to one another over a period of time. The family is that climate that one comes home to; and it is that network of sharing and commitments that most accurately describes the family unit, regardless of blood, or adoption, or marriage (American Home Economics Association).

“Family”: Colloquial term used to identify other LGBTQ community members. For example, an LGBTQ person saying, “that person is family” often means that the person they are referring to is LGBTQ as well.

Family of Choice (chosen family): Persons or group of people an individual sees as significant in his or her life. It may include none, all, or some members of his or her family or origin. In addition, it may include individuals such as significant others, domestic partners, friends, and coworkers.

Family of Origin: Biological family in which one was raised. May or may not be a part of a person’s support system.

Feminine: The socially-constructed gender role assigned to females. Generally includes: nurturing, emotional, quiet, artistic, and attentive to appearance.

FTM: female-to-male. Indicates a transgendered individual who was originally assigned the gender of female at birth, but has claimed a male identity through clothing, surgery, or attitude changes.

Gay: a man whose primary romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions are to other men. This term can also be used to apply to lesbians, bisexuals, and on some occasions, be used as an umbrella term for all LGBT people. Some people object to the use of gay when applied to lesbians as well as gay men, and use the word only to mean a homosexual male.

Gender: 1) A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures. Words that refer to gender include: man, woman, transgender, masculine, feminine, and gender queer. 2) One’s sense of self as masculine or feminine regardless of external genitalia. Gender is often conflated with sex. This is inaccurate because sex refers to bodies and gender refers to personality characteristics.

Genderism: Holding people to traditional expectations based on gender, or punishing, or excluding those who don’t conform to traditional gender expressions.

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 Conformity: When your gender identity and sex “match” (i.e. fit social norms). For example, a male who is masculine and identifies as a man.

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 body’s characteristics. Gender expression is not necessarily an indication of sexual orientation.

Gender Identity: The sense of “being” male or “being” female. For some people, gender identity is in accord with physical anatomy. For transgender people, gender identity may differ from physical anatomy or expected social roles. It is important to note that gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation are not necessarily linked.

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.

Gender-Neutral: Nondiscriminatory language to describe relationships-e.g. “spouse” and “partner” are gender-neutral alternatives to the gender-specific words “husband”, “wife”, “boyfriend”, and “girlfriend”.

Gender queer: 1) 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 voiced discomfort in and exclusion from the transgender community. 2) A rejection of the gender binary (male/female) in favor of a more fluid, nontraditional identity.

Gender role: How “masculine” of “feminine” an individual acts. Societies commonly have norms regarding how males and females should behave, expecting people to have personality characteristics and/or act a certain way based on their biological sex.

Gender-variant/Gender non-conforming: Displaying gender traits that are not normatively associated with their biological sex. “Feminine” behavior or appearance in a male is gender-variant as is “masculine” behavior or appearance in a female. Gender-variant behavior is culturally specific.

Hate Crime: Hate crime legislations often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.

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: 1) The system of oppression that reinforces the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships, thereby negating gays’, lesbians’, and bisexuals’ lives and relationships. 2) Assuming every person to be heterosexual therefore marginalizing persons who do not identify as heterosexual.

Heterosexual: A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted and committed to the members or a gender or sex that is seen to be the “opposite” or other than the one with which they identify or are identified. Also called “straight”.

Heterosexual Privilege/Heteronormativity: The societal assumption and norm that all people are heterosexual. The basic civil rights and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives, that are systematically denied to gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons, simply because of their sexual orientation.

Homophobia: The irrational fear of, hatred of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuals or homosexual behavior. Biphobia and transphobia are more specific terms when discussing prejudice toward bisexual and transgender persons, respectively.

Homosexual: A person who is primarily and/or exclusively attracted to members of what they identify as their own sex or gender. A clinical term that originated in the 1800s. Some avoid the word because it contains the base word “sex”. The terms “lesbian, bi, and gay” are preferred by many in the LGBT community.

Homosexuality: defines attraction (sexually, physically, and emotionally) to the same sex, and is one orientation on the continuum from homosexual to bisexual to heterosexual. Many prefer the terms “gay”, “lesbian”, or “bisexual” to describe their identities.

In the closet/Closeted: Keeping one’s sexual orientation and/or gender or sex identity a secret.

Inclusive Language: Use of gender non-specific language to avoid imposing the limiting assumption of heterosexuality and to present an open social climate for non-heterosexual, transgender, and intersex people.

Institutional Oppression: Arrangement of society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.

Internalized Homophobia: The experience of shame, aversion, or self-hatred in reaction to one‘s own feelings of attraction for a person of the same sex.

Internalized Oppression: The process by which, an oppressed person comes to believe, accept, or live out the inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group.

Intersex: Formerly known as hermaphrodites (a term that is now considered offensive), this term refers to people who have traits of both male and female sexual organs or have ambiguous sexual organs. Intersex people are born with “sex chromosomes,” external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male or female.

Invisible minority (also called silent minority): A group whose minority status is not always immediately visible, such as some disabled people and LGBTQ people. This lack of visibility may make organizing for rights difficult.

Lambda: The Gay Activist Alliance originally chose the lambda, the Greek letter “L”, as a symbol in 1970. Organizers chose the letter “L” to signify liberation. The word has become a way of expressing the concept “Lesbian and gay male” in a minimum of syllables and has been adopted by such organizations as Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Lavender: The association of the color lavender with gay and lesbian people goes back into ancient times and has been strengthened by the fact that lavender, or purple, is the combination of red (pink) and blue, the traditional gender-identified colors.

Legal Sex: The sex assigned on an individual’s legal documentation.

Lesbian: a woman whose primary romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions are to other women.

Lifestyle: How a person chooses to live and behave. Being LGBTQ is not a choice, and therefore is not considered a lifestyle (some lifestyles include: vegan, hobbies, rural/urban, etc.)

Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

Masculine: The socially-constructed gender role assigned to males. Generally includes: strong, stoic, good at sports, wears pants, and does not wear makeup.

Men who have sex with Men (MSM): Men who engage in same-sex behavior, but who may not necessarily self-identify as gay.

Monosexual: One who has significant sexual or romantic attractions to only members of one gender or sex. Refers to those who are straight, gay, or lesbians, not bisexual or asexual. Often regarded as derogatory.

MTF: male-to-female. Indicates a transgendered individual who was originally assigned the gender of male at birth, but has claimed a female identity through clothing, surgery, or attitude changes.

Normal: Can refer to what is statistically more commons, but is often confused with whatever people condone morally. Only individuals can decide what is normal for them, and it need not be what is normal for others.

On T: When an FTM takes the hormone testosterone.

Oppress: To participate in or collude with the oppression of a group.

Oppression: Systematic, institutionalized mistreatment of and misinformation about people who are (perceived to be) members of a particular group. Oppression is always backed up by social norms and cultural power. Mistreatment may include economic marginalization, social marginalization (not including members of the group in one’s circle of friends and media reports on and representations of society; the cold shoulder; not consulting with or accepting input from them on decisions which concern them; snide comments, verbal harassment, assault, rape, and murder), legal marginalization, medical marginalization, educational marginalization, etc.

Othering: Language that refers to them or ―others; typically used to identify a separation between and among groups. It has been used in social sciences to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude 'Others' whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society.

Out or Out of the closet: Refers to varying degrees of being open about one’s sexual orientation and/or sex identity or gender identity.

Outing: Outing refers to revealing someone else‘s sexual orientation or gender identity to others without the consent of the person.

Pansexual: 1) Characterized by the potential for aesthetic attraction, romantic love, or sexual desire for people, regardless of their gender identity or biological sex. 2) A person who is fluid in sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Partner or Significant Other: Primary domestic partner or spousal relationship(s). May be referred to as girlfriend/boyfriend, lover, roommate, life partner, wife/husband, or other terms.

Pass: To be perceived by others as a member of the group one chooses, instead of as a member of another group, especially of the gender one was assigned at birth.

Polyamory: Polyamory is the practice of having multiple open, honest love relationships.

Pride: Not being ashamed of oneself; showing one’s pride to others by coming out, marching, etc.

Queer: 1) Used by some within the LGBT community to refer to a person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex or transgender, or someone who is supportive of LGBT issues. 2) A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid. 3) A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer. **Many are offended by this word and view it as a pejorative, but it is currently being reclaimed by many within the LGBT community and used as a statement of empowerment. Some people identify as “queer” to distance themselves from the rigid categorization of “straight” and “gay”. Some transgender, lesbian, gay, questioning, non-labeling, intersex, and bisexual people, however, reject the use of the term due to its connotations of deviance and its tendency to gloss over and sometimes deny the differences between these groups.**

Questioning: The process of exploring one’s own sexual identity. Looking into the influences that shape one’s sexual identity, including but not limited to one’s upbringing, expectations from others (family, friends, church, etc.), and inner motivation.

Rainbow Flag: The Rainbow Freedom Flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker to designate the great diversity of the LGBTQ community. It has been recognized by the International Flag Makers Association as the official flag of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and has been adopted as a symbol of gay identity and pride. It has six stripes in the traditional form, but can be seen as streamers, etc., which run in the order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple.

Safe Space: A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourages everyone to respect others.

Sex: 1) An act, series of acts, that humans do as a part of the expression of their sexual nature and their desire for love and affection. 2) The identification of biological gender. **Sex is biological, although social views and experiences of sex are cultural**

Sex Identity: The sex that a person sees themselves as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a sex.

Sexual Dysphoria: A medical term for unhappiness or discomfort with the biological sex to which one was born or assigned at birth; describing a disconnect between one’s internal sense of gender indemnity and one’s outwardly apparent biological sex; a term disliked by many transgender people as implying that there is something wrong with them; may or may not coincide with gender dysphoria.

Sexual Minority: 1) Refers to members of sexual orientations or who engage in sexual activities that are not part of the mainstream. 2) Refers to members of sex groups that do not fall into the majority categories of male or female, such as intersexuals and transsexuals.

Sexual Orientation: The inclination or capacity to develop intimate emotional and sexual relationships with people of the same sex, the other sex, or either sex. One‘s sexual orientation therefore may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. Orientation is not dependent on physical experience, but rather on a person’s feelings and attractions. **It is on a continuum and not a set of absolute categories. Sometimes referred to as affection orientation or sexuality. Sexual orientation evolves through a multistage development process, and may change over time**

SRS (Sexual Reassignment Surgery): The surgery done by transsexuals to make their bodies and their sex identity match.

Stereotype: An exaggerated oversimplified belief about an entire group of people without regard for individual difference.

Stonewall: On June, 28 1969, NYC police attempted a routine raid on the Stonewall Inn, a working class gay and lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. Unexpectedly, the patrons resisted, and the incident escalated into a riot that continued for several days. Most people look to this event as the beginning of the American Gay Liberation movement and all subsequent LGBT movements.

Straight: Person who is attracted to a gender other than their own, Commonly thought of as attraction to the opposite gender, but since there are not only two genders (see transgender), this definition is inaccurate.

Transgender: 1) Used both as an umbrella term and as an identity. Broadly, it refers to those who do not identify or are uncomfortable with their assigned gender and gender roles. As an identity the term refers to anyone who transgresses traditional sex and gender categories. 2) People whose psychological self (gender identity) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. For example, a female with a masculine gender identity or who identifies as a man.

Transgenderist: A person who lives full time, or most of the time, in a gender role different that the role associated with their biological or chromosomal sex (a gender non-conformist), but who has not made any anatomical changes.

Transition: 1) 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. 2) A complicated, multi-step process that can take years as transsexuals align their anatomy with their sex identity; this process may include sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

Transphobia: The irrational fear of, hatred of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people.

Transsexual: Refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex they were born as and the sex they identify as. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her sex identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals can have or desire surgery.

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. Transvestites are usually comfortable with their anatomy and do not wish to change it (i.e. they are not transsexuals).

Triangle: A symbol of remembrance. Gay men in the Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear the pink triangle as a designation of being homosexual. Women who did not conform to social roles, often believed to be lesbians, had to wear the black triangle. The triangles are worn today as symbols of freedom, reminding us to never forget.

Two-Spirited (also called Berdaches or third gender): In many Native American Cultures some individuals are respected and looked upon as people who are both male and female, making them more complete, more balanced than those who identify as men or women. Before those from Europe came from across the waters, and took over native land, these people were part of the “norm”, connected with the very heartbeat of the life force we are all a part of. Even today, Berdaches are accepted in many Native American societies and other settings.

Unisex: Clothing, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, relationships, etc., which considered appropriate for members of any gender/sex.

Ze: Gender neutral pronouns that be used instead of he/she.

Zir: Gender neutral pronouns that be used instead of his/her.

Some definitions adapted from:

Outfront Minnesota, 310 38th Street East, Suite 204, Minneapolis, MN 55409
Cooper Thompson and the Campaign to End Homophobia: A Guide to Leading Introductory Workshops on Homophobia
The Gender Education Center
The Intersex Society of North America
Carlton College Gender and Sexuality Center
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