What Does LGBT Mean? Know the Basics.

Earlier this summer, individuals, communities and organizations celebrated diversity in our gender and sexual identities during LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) Pride Month. But, have you ever wondered what LGBT and being an “ally” mean? Knowing some key terms and concepts, like the difference between “sex,” “gender,” and “sexual orientation,” are ways to be an ally.LGBT Key Terms and Concepts

The term “LGBT” technically stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. It includes both sexual orientation (LGB) and gender identity (T). But, it’s sometimes used as an umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as straight (heterosexual) or cisgender, so it’s important to know other sexual and gender identities the term covers. Below, we break down a few basic terms and concepts. These are just some of the many terms that are used to define sexual orientation, as well as gender identity and expression. A word of caution: Be careful not to impose any of these terms onto others. Let others identify themselves in ways that make them feel safe and authentic to their true selves.[i]

Know Key Terms and Concepts

  • Let’s start with the basics: [ii], [iii]
    • Sex — Genetic and physical body characteristics people are born with, labeled male or female.
    • Gender — A social and cultural expression of sex; not the biological sex people are born with.
    • Intersex — People who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit typical definitions of “male” or “female.”
    • Sexual Orientation — Romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction to others.
    • Gender Identity — An internal feeling of being male, female, or something else.
    • Gender Expression — Ways of showing gender to others, such as through mannerisms, clothes, and personal interests.
    • Questioning — Individuals who are unsure about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
    • Ally — An individual or organization that openly supports and affirms the rights and dignity of LGBT people.
  • Sexual orientation: [iv]
    • Lesbian/Gay — Individuals who are romantically, emotionally, and/or sexually attracted to the same sex/gender.
    • Bisexual — Individuals who are romantically, emotionally, and/or sexually attracted to multiple sexes/genders.
  • Gender identity and expression: [v]
    • Cisgender — Individuals whose gender identity/expressions is similar to that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.
    • Transgender — Individuals whose gender identity/expression is different from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.
    • Transitioning — When individuals begin to express their authentic gender, which differs from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Individuals who are transitioning may express their gender identity through changes in clothes, hairstyle, and makeup/accessories and may undergo medical or surgical treatments.[vi]
    • Two-Spirit — Created specifically by and for some Native American communities. Native American people who (a) express their gender and/or sexual orientation in indigenous, non-Western ways, and/or (b) define themselves as LGBTQI in a native context.

Learn More

For more information about key concepts and terms on LGBT, check out the LGBT youth topic on youth.gov; YE4C Change Makers Josh, Amanda, and endever*; and this helpful list of definitions by Advocates for Youth.

Stay tuned for more blogs about LGBT topics and how you can be an ally. And “Like” our Facebook page, Youth Engaged 4 Change, for more updates like this and other exciting opportunities!



[i] Advocates for Youth. (2008). Creating safe space for GLBTQ youth: A toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/607-glossary

[ii] Youth.gov. LBGT key terms and concepts. Retrieved from http://youth.gov/youth-topics/lgbtq-youth/key-terms-and-concepts

[iii] Advocates for Youth. (2008). Creating safe space for GLBTQ youth: A toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/607-glossary

[iv] American Institutes for Research. (2014). A guide for understanding, supporting, and affirming LGBTQI2-S children, youth, and families. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/A_Guide_for_Understanding_Supporting_and_Affirming_LGBTQI2-S_Children_Youth_and_Families.pdf (PDF, 8 pages)

[v] American Institutes for Research. (2014). A guide for understanding, supporting, and affirming LGBTQI2-S children, youth, and families. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/A_Guide_for_Understanding_Supporting_and_Affirming_LGBTQI2-S_Children_Youth_and_Families.pdf (PDF, 8 pages)

[vi] Youth.gov. LBGT key terms and concepts. Retrieved from http://youth.gov/youth-topics/lgbtq-youth/key-terms-and-concepts