GLBT Terminology & Definitions

[compiled by Helen Mongan-Rallis & Christine Imbra, 1998]

Bisexual: A person who experiences the human need for warmth, affection, and love from persons of either gender.  Sometimes this includes sexual contact.

Coming Out:  Means that one states openly that one is lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender, in contrast to "staying in the closet" by hiding one's sexuality either from oneself or from others.

Domestic Partnership:  Two individuals of the same gender who are in a committed relationship of indefinite duration with an exclusive mutual commitment similar to that of marriage.

Family: Two or more persons who share resources, share responsibility for decisions, share values and goals, and have commitments to one another over a period of time. The family is that climate that one comes home to; and it is that network of sharing and commitments that most accurately describes the family unit, regardless of blood, legalities or adoption or marriage  (The American Home Economics Association).

Gay:  This term is frequently used generically to include all lesbian, gay male, and bisexual individuals.

Gay Male:  A man who experiences the human need for warmth, affection, and love from another man.  This may include sexual contact.

Gender:  An individual's basic self-conviction of being male or female.  This conviction is not entirely contingent upon the individual's biological sex.  The exact process by which boys and girls come to see themselves as male or female is not known.  However, research indicates that gender identity develops some time between birth and 3 years of age.

Lesbian: A woman who experiences the human need for warmth, affection, sensuality, and love from another woman. This may include sexual contact. Many women prefer this term to "gay" because it connotes unique identity.

LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender; term includes both sexual orientation and gender identification.

LGBT Lifestyles:  Some people refer to LGBT individuals in terms of their "lifestyle"; this includes some LGBT individuals themselves.  For the most part, members of the LGBT community prefer to think of their lives as just that; their life, not a "lifestyle."

Heterosexism:  The system of oppression that reinforces the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships and negates gays', lesbians', bisexuals', and transgenders' lives and relationships.

Heterosexual:  A person who experiences the human need for warmth, affection, and love from persons of the opposite gender.  Sometimes this includes sexual contact.

Heterosexual Privilege:  The basic civil rights that a heterosexual person automatically receives that are denied to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons simply because of who they are.

Homophobia:  Negative feelings, attitudes, actions, or behaviors against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.  It is likewise a fear of one's own same-sex sexual or affectional feelings as well as a fear of being perceived as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Homosexual:  A term coined in 1869 by an early psychiatrist named Kertbery to describe a person who has "an other than normal sexual urge which renders them physically and psychically incapable."  Since the word was originally used to describe a pathology, most gay, lesbian, and bisexual people today do not like to use this term to define themselves.  Homosexuality per se is no longer considered to be pathological by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and many other professional organizations.  The word "homosexual" is often used as a descriptor when discussing concrete behaviors (e.g., to describe same-sex behaviors or fantasies.)

In the Closet:  A phrase used to describe an individual who has not divulged her/his sexual orientation to all or some friends, family, co-workers, and/or the public. 

Outing: Divulging the sexual orientation of an individual without her/his permission.

Queer: Used by some to refer to themselves, or the community, or a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.  Some people feel it is a more inclusive term for issues of race, class, and gender, while others detest it and view it as a pejorative term.

Sex:  An act, or series of acts, that humans engage in as part of the expression of their sexual nature and their desire for love and affection.

Sexual Orientation:  The orientation within human beings which leads them to be emotionally and physically attracted to persons of one gender or the other or both.  One's sexual orientation may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual.

Transgender:  Persons who feel that their gender identity is different than their biological sex.  Some transgender persons wish to change their anatomy to be more congruent with their self-perception.  Others do not have such a desire.  There is no correlation between sexual orientation and transgender issues.  Transgender persons can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.