When learning to support LGBTQ+ workers it’s important to educate yourself first and a good place to start is with LGBTQ+ terminology.
One of the first things to do when attempting to be a better LGBTQ+ ally, or working toward creating a more inviting and inclusive space, is to educate oneself. It can be daunting to know what to do or how to behave when there’s so much we don’t know about a community. Thankfully the internet has a plethora of information to get you started. One of the best places to start when first learning about the LGBTQ+ community is with basic LGBTQ+ terminology.
These definitions are compiled from a more comprehensive list at It’s Pronounced Metrosexual. It was created in collaboration with The Safe Zone Project as well as a large number of community members. The Safe Zone Project is a great educational resource and we definitely recommend checking it out for yourself.
Note that definitions are always growing and changing with the community as cultural norms change. Also, not every member of the LGBTQ+ community personally identifies with the terms. So, always trust the person you’re interacting with to self identify, and go with the definition they’re comfortable with if they choose to explain or describe their identity to you.
(L)lesbian noun & adj. : Women who are primarily attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other women.
(G)gay 1 adj. : experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to some members of the same gender. It can be used to refer to men who are attracted to other men and women who are attracted to women. 2 adj. : an umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who is not straight.
(B)bisexual 1 noun & adj. : a person who experiences attraction to some men and women. 2 adj. : a person who experiences attraction to some people of their gender and another gender. Bisexual attraction does not have to be equally split or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders an individual may be attracted to. It can be shortened to “bi” (pronounced “bye”). Often used interchangeably with “pansexual”.
asexual adj. : experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/ or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behaviour. Asexuality exists on a continuum from people who experience no sexual attraction or have any desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions. Many of these different places on the continuum have their own identity labels (ex: demisexual). Sometimes abbreviated to “ace.”
(T)transgender 1 adj. : a gender description for someone who has transitioned (or is transitioning) from living as one gender to another. 2 adj. : an umbrella term for anyone whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity does not correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, but does not identify as a man).
More Specific Gender Terminology – LGBTQ+ Terminology
When it comes to gender, there are a few more definitions that might be helpful:
cisgender /“siss-jendur”/ – adj. : a gender description for when someone’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can also be shortened to “cis.”
agender adj. : a person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional system of gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender. Sometimes called gender neutrois, gender-neutral, or genderless.
gender fluid adj. : a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders but may feel more man some days, and more woman other days. gender identity noun: the internal perception of one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Often conflated or confused with biological sex, or sex assigned at birth.
Using Language Appropriately
Once we have a basic understanding of terminology, we need to know how to use it appropriately. Here are some of the common mistakes and how to avoid them.
- Say “gay,” not “homosexual.” “Homosexual” often connotes a medical diagnosis and often causes discomfort with gay/lesbian people. For example, “We want to do a better job of being inclusive of our gay employees.”
- Say “assigned female at birth,” not “born female” or “female-bodied” (or “assigned male at birth,” not “born male” or “male-bodied”). “Assigned” language accurately depicts the situation of what happens at birth. “-Bodied” language is often interpreted as pressure to medically transition, or invalidation of one’s gender identity. For example, “Max was assigned female at birth, then he transitioned in high school.”
- Say “a transgender person” or “a gay person,” not “a transgender” or “a gay.” Gay and transgender are adjectives that describe a person/group. For example, “We had a transgender athlete in our league this year.“
- Say “transgender people and cisgender people,” not “transgender people and normal people.” Saying “normal” implies “abnormal.” For example, “This group is open to both transgender and cisgender people.”
- Say “all genders,” not “both genders” or “opposite sexes.” “Both” implies there are only two; “opposite” reinforces antagonism amongst genders. For example, “Video games aren’t just a boy thing — kids of all genders play them.”
- Say “everyone,” “folks,” “honoured guests,” etc., not “ladies and gentlemen.” Moving away from binary language is more inclusive of people of all genders. For example, “Good morning everyone, next stop Picadilly Station.”
- Say “they,” not “it” when referring to someone (e.g., when pronouns are unknown). “It” is for referring to things, not people. For example, “You know, I am not sure how they identify.”
For some, it may feel overwhelming at first to become accustomed to using LGBTQ+ terminology that you’re not familiar with. But with practice it will become more natural and comfortable. Also note that mistakes and missteps happen, those in the LGBTQ+ community are generally understanding of this, especially if you show you’re putting in effort to learn and correct mistakes.