While LGBTQ people have existed for as long as straight people have, we’re getting more recognition than ever before. Today, an estimated 4.5% of U.S. residents identify as LGBTQ, and that statistic is only based on those of us who are “out”.
Other estimates place the percentage of LGBTQ folks at 10% or higher. Plus, recent studies have found that as many as 20% of millennials identify as LGBTQ.
One thing’s for sure, we’re gaining more visibility. Nonetheless, many people still wonder what the LGBTQ acronym stands for.
What Does LGBTQ Stand For?
Below, let’s dive into the meaning of each letter in the LGBTQ acronym. Read on to learn more about your queer brothers, sisters, and nonbinary sibs.
‘L’ Is for Lesbian
The ‘L’ in LGBTQ stands for lesbian. A lesbian is a gay woman. This is a pretty simple concept to understand — a woman who is attracted to other women.
However, because lesbian is a personal identity, each person who chooses this label has the right to shape and define exactly what it means for them.
Remember, when it comes to personal identities, the individual gets to set the parameters (or lack thereof).
‘G’ Is for Gay
The ‘G’ stands for gay, a term that often refers to gay men. Gay men are men who are attracted to other men.
However, ‘gay’ can also be an umbrella term that is used in place of ‘queer’ when talking to others.
Again, someone who is gay might also be attracted to people who are nonbinary, gender nonconforming, intersex or transgender. They may even engage in periodic relationships with cisgender women.
In the end, what this term means to you is all about how you identify. Remember, gay can mean many different things to many different people.
‘B’ Is for Bisexual
The ‘B’ in LGBTQ stands for ‘bisexual.’ This refers to anyone who is attracted to two or more genders.
While the most commonly known genders are ‘female’ and ‘male’, an infinite number of genders existing because, gender is a spectrum of biological, mental and emotional traits that exist along a continuum.
These genders can be the same as their own or different from their own — it doesn’t matter.
Bisexuality is one of the most commonly misunderstood identities in the LGBTQ acronym. One common misconception is that bisexuals are half gay and half straight, but this isn’t the case.
Again, bisexual is a personal identity, so it will be as variable as the people that you meet who choose to embrace it.
‘T’ Is for Transgender (or Two-Spirit)
Most commonly, the ‘T’ in the LGBTQ acronym stands for transgender, which is a matter of gender rather than of sexuality.
Fun fact: someone who identifies with the gender that they’re assigned at birth is usually called ‘cisgender.’ So, if you don’t fall under the trans umbrella, you’re likely cisgender or gender nonconforming (GNC).
Let’s start by talking about ‘binary’ trans people. Binary trans women are women who were assigned male at birth. Binary trans men are the opposite of that: men who were assigned female at birth.
There are also ‘nonbinary’ trans people. These transgender people choose not to be limited by the choices of female/male either before of after their transition.
Some trans people choose to undergo hormone therapy or surgeries, like “top surgery”—the common term for mastectomies done by trans men, as well as nonbinary and gender nonconforming (GNC) folks. Other trans people do not.
Similarly, trans women may have procedures to feminize their chest, such as feminizing mammaplasty. Other trans and GNC people may do genital reconstruction surgeries.
In some cases, the ‘T’ in LGBTQ may mean two-spirited. Most often, “two–spirit” indicates that a person has both a masculine and a feminine spirits, or alternatively, both male and female aspects to their being. The term is derived from and commonly used by Indigenous North Americans.
‘Q’ Is for Queer or Questioning
‘Q’ is an interesting letter because it can mean ‘queer’ or ‘questioning’, depending on the person.
‘Queer’ is an umbrella term often used by people from across the LGBTQ spectrum. For many people, queer means, “I identify outside the norms I perceive for sexuality or gender.”
Yet again, it can mean many different things to many different people, because it’s a personal identity.
Historically, queer was derogatory word. This was true from the late 1800s through to the mid 1980s. Thankfully, the LGBTQ community has since reclaimed the word, embracing it as empowering and synonymous with gay pride.
‘Questioning’ usually means a person is either exploring their identity or embracing its fluidity.
Beyond LGBTQ: What Does LGBTQIA+ Stand For?
As described above, the acronym LGBTQ is a term that is descriptive of a wide range of identities.
The term is also flexible, in that it often includes other letters as well, such as ‘I’ for intersex or ‘A’ for allies, androgynous, or asexual. In many cases, a plus sign (+) is added, to embrace identities beyond this acronym.
For quick reference, LGBTQIA+ refers:
- L = Lesbian
- G = Gay
- B = Bisexual
- T = Trans (or Two-Spirited)
- Q = Queer / Questioning
- I = Intersex
- A = Allies / Androgynous / Asexual
- Plus Sign (+) – Covers All Other Identities
Because of all the letters involved, the queer community sometimes jokingly calls this acronym “alphabet soup.”
The Longest LGBTQ+ Term of All
To date, the longest LGBTQ+ term I have seen is: LGBTQQIP2SAAA
LGBTQQIP2SAAA stands for ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirit (2S), Androgynous, Asexual, and Allies.’
However, even with that, I’ve heard some people with nonbinary (NB) and gender nonconforming (GNC) identities say it is incomplete.
Also, that’s wildly hard to say and write, which is why LGBTQ+ has been a much more popular choice.
Finally, I’ve heard people suggest that we should vary the letter order, so that we’re not prioritizing some identities over others.
Let’s just say that when it comes to personal identity, people will always have varying opinions and that’s fantastic.
Do you have questions about the use of the term LGBTQ? Ask them in the comments below.