LGBTQA 101 Guide
LGBTQA: A common acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, and ally. In this context, it is used as an umbrella term for the entire community. We do acknowledge that there are many more identities not specifically called out in this acronym, however, which makes this practice problematic. As we have yet to come up with a better way of addressing the entire "non-heterosexual, non-cisgender" community without identifying ourselves as the negative of another group, this is what we will use for the time being.
Lesbian: Used to describe women who are emotionally, romantically, sexually, relationally, or affectionately attracted to other women.
Gay: Used to describe men who are emotionally, romantically, sexually, relationally, or affectionately attracted to other men. Women who are attracted to other women also may identify as "gay." Sometimes, "gay" is used to refer to the entire LGBTQA community as an umbrella term (i.e., "the gay community," "gay rights"); however, some people find this problematic because it is using the traditionally masculine term in a general way (in the same way that people may find using the word "guys" to refer to a group of men and women inappropriate).
Bisexual: One who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, relationally, and affectionately attracted to members of both the same and opposite gender. Distinct from the term "pansexual," which includes people who identify on the gender spectrum somewhere between "man" and "woman" (i.e., "gender queer," "nongendered").
Transgender: Used to describe a broad range of people who's experience and/or express their gender differently from what most people expect. It is an umbrella term that can include people who are transsexual, cross-dressers, gender queer or otherwise gender non-conforming.
Queer: 1) Originally used a pejorative, this term can now be used to describe the whole LGBTQ community. The level of comfort with using this word varies from person to person, with younger generations generally being more comfortable taking it on, because older generations still associate it with its original negative connotations. 2) A description for someone's sexual orientation. Sometimes people take this on for political reasons (to "trouble" traditional views of sexual orientation, a more radical ideology), or because they don't find the other labels fit them. It can also be thought of as an "anti-label," to rebel against the idea of being made to label oneself at all. 3) A description of someone's gender identity. These folks may consider themselves "gender queer," and find that they fall somewhere other than "cisgender" or "transgender."
Questioning: A process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for various reasons. Typically applied to people who are "exiting" heterosexuality, but can also be attributed to people who have identified as LGBTQA and are now questioning that identity.
Asexual: Used to describe an individual who does not experience strong sexual attraction for other people, or experiences no sexual attraction for other people at all. Contrary to myth, asexual people are not broken, and their asexuality was not caused, in general, because they were the victim of abuse. There is a lot of new information available about asexual people, and a great resource to check out is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN).
Ally: Anyone in a majority group that speaks out for a marginalized group. In this context, "ally" usually referes to a straight person who is speaking in support and equality for LGBTQA people. However, members of the LGBTQA community can be an allies to each other – i.e., a lesbian can be an ally to a transgender person, etc..
Sexual Orientation: This is your natural state of being. It is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual and relational attraction to another person; may be a same gender orientation, opposite gender orientation or bisexual orientation etc.
Sexual Preference: What a person likes or prefers to do sexually; a conscious recognition or choice not to be confused with sexual orientation. An example of a sexual preference might be considered your "type" of partner, moreso than that person's gender. Because it is a term that implies changeability, it is often used as a means of diminishing the lives of openly LGBTQA people.
Coming Out: The process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and begins to share that with others. For many this is a continuing process, which occurs every time they meet someone new, get a new job, etc. Some choose to never come out, depending on a number of factors including cultural norms and understanding. In most cases, coming out is an act of self-empowerment, an active choice to share with others something critically significant to them. It is important to let people have the chance to choose their own manner and method of coming out.
Outing: Exposing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. This is associated with a loss of power or control for the individual in question. It can have extremely negative consequences, depending on the situation the person is in.
Heterosexism: The societal assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is somehow superior to homosexuality; the systematic and/or institutional oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Examples may include: M/F checkboxes on forms; spaces on forms to enter a “spouse” with no options for “Domestic Partner”; in conversations, assuming that someone’s significant other is of the opposite gender; failing to mention a same-sex partner of an athlete/celebrity (such as when Australian and openly gay athlete Matthew Mitcham won gold for diving and his partner was not mentioned on news broadcasts of the event – however other athletes’ husbands and wives were frequently mentioned/shown).
Homophobia: Encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred, and may be based on irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientations that are non-heterosexual. According to the 2010 Hate Crimes Statistics released by the FBI National Press Office, 19.3 percent of hate crimes across the United States "were motivated by a sexual orientation bias." Moreover, in a Southern Poverty Law Center 2010 Intelligence Report extrapolating data from fourteen years (1995–2008), which had complete data available at the time, of the FBI's national hate crime statistics found that LGBT people were "far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by violent hate crime." (Source for definition)