Definitions and explanations about the diversity of LGBTQ folks

Learn more about the diversity of identfying as LGBTQ and the differences between sex, gender and sexual orientation.


There is incredible diversity among children and youth who challenge our notions about what it means to be a boy or girl, male or female. These children and youth bring us face-to-face with our own deepest feelings and societal expectations about sex, gender, sexuality and identity. Too often they are punished for being non-conforming.

Advocate: A person who actively works to end intolerance, educates others and supports LGBTIQ2S issues, concerns, equal rights legislation, etc.

Ally: A term used to describe people who advocate and support members of a community other than their own. In the context of the LGBTQ community, “ally” is often used to refer to non-LGBTQ people who advocate for and support LGBTQ people.

Assigned sex: The sex that is noted on an individual’s birth certificate issued at birth.

Biological sex: An individual’s sex, male or female, based on the appearance of an individual’s external genitalia and their assumed sex chromosomes.

Bisexual: describes people who are attracted to ‘both’ sexes or genders (bisexual) or to all sexes and genders (pansexual). Bisexual implies there are only two sexes or genders.

Cisgender or Cis: Someone who identifies with the sex they are born with. 

Cultural Competence: Refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and experiences. This is particularly in the context of government and nonprofit agencies whose employees work with persons from different social/cultural/ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competence comprises of four components:

  1. awareness of one’s own cultural worldview;
  2. attitude towards cultural differences;
  3. knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews; and,
  4. cross-cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.

Discrimination: Specific actions against a person or group that are based on prejudice (e.g. treating TGNC youth differently because they are trans or gender non-conforming).

Emotional/Psychology Safety: A person’s sense of security and confidence that they will be treated with respect, which contributes to positive mental health and well-being

FTM/Female-to-Male: See Trans Men and Boys.

Gender: The set of meanings assigned by a culture or society to men and women. While most people are born either male or female, they are taught norms and behaviours - including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and workplaces. Gender is not static and it can shift over time.

Gender has at least three components:

  1. Gender Identity: Individuals’ internal view of their gender; one’s innermost sense of being male or female. Gender identity is well established around 3-4 years old. This will often influence name and pronoun preference for an individual.
  2. Physical Markers: Aspects of the human body that are considered to determine sex and/or gender for a given culture or society; including genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, secondary sex characteristics and internal reproductive organs.
  3. Gender Expression & Cues: Aspects of behavior and outward presentation that may (intentionally or unintentionally) communicate gender to others in a given culture or society, including clothing, body language, hairstyles, socialization, interests, and presence in gendered spaces (e.g. restrooms, places of worship, etc.). Refers to the manner in which a person expresses their gender through clothing, appearance, behavior, speech, etc. A person’s gender expression may vary from the gender norms traditionally associated with that person’s biological sex. Gender expression is separate from gender identity and sexual orientation.

Gender Binary: The cultural expectation that there are only two sexes/genders—male and female—and that they are the opposite of each other.

Gender Dysphoria (GD): Formerly known as Gender Identity Disorder (GID). This is the formal diagnosis for trans identity in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition, (DSM 5). The criteria for GD are:

  • a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least six months duration, as manifested by specific criteria. The condition is associated with clinically significant distress or
  • impairment in social, school, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

The DSM 5 is used to assist trained clinicians in the diagnosis of their patients’ mental disorders as part of a case formulation assessment that leads to a fully informed treatment plan for each individual. For this reason, many people object to the diagnosis as a pathologizing of gender.

Gender Fluid: Describes someone whose sense of gender is more complex than simply male or female.

Gender Independent: A term used to describe children and youth who do not conform to typical gender expectations but have not identified along the LGBTIQ spectrum

Gender Neutral:  A term that describes something (usually a space, such as a bathroom, or clothing) that is not segregated by sex/gender.

Gender Non-Conforming (GNC):  Someone whose gender identity and expression do not conform to social expectations of male or female from birth. Gender non-conforming people may or may not identify as trans. While GNC people are often assumed to be lesbian, gay or bisexual, sexual orientation cannot be determined by a person’s appearance or degree of gender conformity.

Gender norms: Culturally-based expectations of how people should act based on their sex or gender (e.g., men are masculine, women are feminine).

Gender roles: Social and cultural beliefs about what is considered gender appropriate behavior, and the ways that men and women are expected to act.

Genderqueer: A term for people who do not identify with the gender binary terms that have traditionally described gender identity (e.g., male/female, man/woman). Also see gender non-conforming and trans.

Heteronormative: A term that reveals the expectations, demands and constraints produced when heterosexuality is taken as the norm in society.

Heterosexism:  The social system of attitudes, bias and discrimination in favour of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It presumes a social norm that most people are heterosexual and that opposite sex relations are superior.

Heterosexual: Sometimes referred to as ‘straight’ people who are attracted to the ‘opposite’ sex, conforming to mainstream social expectations of sexual orientation.

Homophobic: The fear of queer people.

Homosexual:  A medical term that was imposed on the LGBTIQ community and is considered now to be disrespectful. Don’t use it.

Intersex: A person with mixed male and female characteristics. The term ‘hermaphrodite’ is an old and inaccurate term that is both stigmatizing and disrespectful. It should not be used.

Lesbian and Gay:  People are attracted primarily to others of the same sex or gender.

LGBTQ:  A widely used acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer. The letters can are meant to be inclusive and can be used in any order. They can include other identifiers such as a “+” sign to mean ‘plus’, (LGBTQ)2  to indicate a person questioning their sexual identity,  ”I” for intersex individuals and “2S” for two-spirited.

Medical Transition: A long-term process that utilizes hormonal treatments and/or surgical interventions to bring a person’s body into congruence with that person’s gender identity. Many, but not all, trans people desire to transition medically.

Micro-aggressions: Small hostile actions by an individual that reveals prejudice or bias (e.g. a person looking confused or disgusted when seeing someone who appears to be trans, using a tone of voice that is cold or unfriendly when speaking with a gender non-conforming person, or, using derogatory or offensive language when referring to a trans or gender non-conforming person.

Micro-aggressions comprise a majority of the prejudice that trans and gender non-conforming people encounter on a daily basis.

MTF/male-to-female: See Trans Women and Girls.

Pansexual: describes people who are attracted to all sexes and genders. Bisexual implies there are only two sexes or genders and so pansexual is more inclusive, recognizing a spectrum of gender identities and sexual bodies.

Physical safety: People’s sense of security and confidence that they will not be physically threatened, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted.

Preferred Gender Pronouns: The way that people refer to themselves and how they prefer to be referred to in terms of gender. Also referred to as pronoun preference or PGPs.

Prejudice: Negative attitudes or bias beliefs about a group of people, or people who belong to a specific group (e.g. trans and gender non-conforming youth).

Pubertal Suppression: A medical process that “pauses” the hormonal changes that instigate puberty in young adolescents, resulting in a purposeful delay of the development of secondary sex characteristics (e.g., breast growth, testicular enlargement, facial hair, body fat redistribution, voice changes, etc.). Suppression allows time for further psychological development and can prevent the increased gender dysphoria that often accompanies puberty for TGNC youth.

Questioning: Refers to people, often adolescents, who are exploring or questioning their gender identity or expression. Some may later identify as Trans or Gender Non-Conforming, while others will not.

Resilience: Refers to the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, or the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after adversity. This term is often used to describe trans and gender nonconforming people, who despite experiencing extreme discrimination, harassment, and violence in all aspects of their lives, have the ability to cope and overcome these significant barriers.

Sexual Orientation: Refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual attraction towards other people of the same or different gender. Sexual Orientation is separate and distinct from Gender Identity and Gender Expression. Sexual Orientation is about attraction to other people (external), while Gender Identity is a deep-seated sense of self (internal).

Social Transition: The process of disclosing to oneself and others that one is trans. This often includes asking that others use a name, pronoun, or gender that is more congruent with that person’s gender identity.

Straight:  A term for heterosexual people who are attracted to people of the opposite sex. There are two versions of the term: Straight male for men who are attracted to women, or straight female for women who are attracted to men. Being straight is considered “normal” in a heteronormative society.

Trans Person:  A person who identifies with a gender that is different from their physical sex.

Trans Communities: Trans is also used as an umbrella term to refer to the communities of people that includes all whose Gender Identity or Gender Expression do not match society’s expectations of how individuals should behave in relation to their gender (e.g. Transsexual, Trans, Genderqueer, Gender Non-Conforming, and other people whose gender expressions vary from traditional gender norms.)

Trans Health Care: Broadly describes the medical care that some trans, transsexual, and gender non-conforming people seek in relation to their gender identity. The term may be used in specific instances to describe specific types of care, which may include supportive psychotherapy, hormonal therapies, surgical procedures, voice therapy, and/or electrolysis/laser hair removal.

Trans Men and Boys: People who identify as male, but were assigned female at birth. Similarly, the terms FTM or Female-to-Male, refer to those who now identify as boys or men.

Trans Women and Girls: People who identify as female, but were assigned male at birth. Similarly, the terms MTF or Male-to-Female refer to those who now identify as girls or women.

Transphobia: The fear of transgender people.

Transsexual: A term that is sometimes used to refer to a trans person who has engaged in a medical transition from one sex/gender to another, so that the person’s body and gender identity are more physically aligned with their gender identity.

Transition: The process trans people engage in when they begin presenting publicly as their gender rather than as what is expected for their physical sex. They often want to change their body to align with their gender through medical intervention.

Two-spirited: An indigenous person who identifies as LGBTIQ. “Two-spirits” were traditionally honoured and valued as special people in many First Nations. They were seen to hold both male and female spirits and could bridge the gap between men and women.

Queer: Sometimes used as an umbrella term to include lesbians, gays, bisexual, pansexual and sometimes trans people. The word has been reclaimed by some in the LGBTIQ community as a marker of pride in their identity. It may still be used in a derogatory way and so should not be used by people who are not self-identified with the LGBTIQ community.

Questioning: The questioning of one's gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three. It is a process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for various reasons. The letter "Q" is sometimes added to the end of the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender); the "Q" can refer to either queer or questioning.

Terms to Avoid: The following terms are generally considered to be outdated, offensive or derogatory when discussing people who are, or are perceived to be LGBTQ. (Note: this is not an exhaustive list.)

  • cross-dresser
  • deviant
  • hermaphrodite
  • homosexual
  • "it" as a pronoun
  • pre-op or post-op
  • tranny or trannie
  • transvestite 

Further Reading & Resources