Glossary of LGBTQ Terms

Click on a term to see its definition.


This term is commonly used to define lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited, and other people and institutions on the margins of mainstream culture. However, the definition continues to be debated among queer theorists.

Historically, the term has been used to denigrate sexual and gender minorities, but more recently it has been reclaimed by these groups and is increasingly used as an expression of pride. Queer can be a convenient, inclusive term when referring to issues and experiences affecting the many groups subsumed under this umbrella.

Because it is still used to demean lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirited, and trans people, those who do not identify as queer are urged to use the term with caution, or not at all.

Sexual Identity

Sexual identity (sexual orientation) includes emotional attachment, sexual attraction, sexual behaviours, and often, identification with a particular culture (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirited, trans, or heterosexual culture).

Sexual identity is preferred over sexual orientation by many as it includes, but does not solely focus on, sexual behaviour. It is also not tied to a particular position in the nature/nurture controversy.

Sexual identity implies personal choice in shaping one's sense of self and is, therefore, considered empowering by many.


Heterosexism refers to the system of beliefs and practices that exclude and demean those who are, or are perceived to be, same-sex oriented.

Heterosexism includes the promotion by individuals and/or institutions of the superiority of heterosexuality over all other orientations. Heterosexist beliefs include the assumption that everyone should be heterosexual, that everyone is heterosexual unless known to be otherwise, and that non­heterosexuals are unnatural.

Heterosexism can be intentional or unintentional. Like other forms of discrimination, it is often invisible to those who are not its targets.


This is the term often used to describe personal forms of heterosexism, including verbal and physical abuse.

Some find the roots of the term (the irrational fear of same-sex-oriented people or feelings) useful in addressing heterosexist attitudes. However, others prefer to use the more inclusive term, heterosexism, to describe all forms of discrimination against lesbians, two-spirited people, gay men, and bisexuals.


Two-spirited is a term adopted by contemporary North American Aboriginal peoples to refer to those who embody both the male and female spirit.

The term is inclusive and can refer to both sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression. Therefore, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and heterosexual trans-people may all refer to themselves as two-spirited.

Terms such as "berdache" have a colonial origin, and "gay" and "lesbian" are, to many, Eurocentric and culturally irrelevant to Aboriginal two-spirited people.


Trans (transgender, trans-identified) is an inclusive term referring to the many people who cross socially-constructed gender boundaries by adopting a gender identity, presentation, or behaviour that is not typically associated with one's assigned biological sex. This includes transsexuals, transgenderists, cross-dressers, and intersexed people.

Gender Identity

Gender identity refers to the self-image or belief held about one's gender as being female, male, androgynous, or something else (e.g., third, fourth gender).

Gender identity may differ from assigned sex and, if so, the individual is considered to be trans.

Gender identity differs from sexual identity. Trans people may be heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. However, trans people who are heterosexual are often assumed to be same-sex oriented and, as a result, experience heterosexism as well as transphobia.


Transphobia is the negative valuing and discriminatory treatment of individuals who do not conform in presentation and/or identity to conventional conceptions of gender.

Lesbians, two-spirited people, gay men, bisexuals, and trans individuals are typically the targets of transphobia.

Transphobia, homophobia, and heterosexism are closely linked and interdependent. As with any form of discrimination, transphobia can be personal or systemic, intentional or unintentional.


Intersex describes those who are born with mixed sex characteristics. They may have some sex/reproductive organs associated with both female and male sexes, or they may have other discrepancies among chromosomal or hormonal markers of sex.

Typically physicians decide at birth which "sex" is more surgically or aesthetically viable. The assigned gender may or may not match the person's gender identity. Many intersex people are angry that these decisions were made without their awareness or consent, and for, essentially, cosmetic purposes. Intersex activists wish to prevent this from happening to other infants and children.


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