Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms



gay; lesbian; bisexual — For example, lesbian and gay families, gay man, lesbian couple, bisexual men and women. While many lesbians may identify as gay, the term lesbian(s) is clearer when talking exclusively about women.

same-sex couples — Use when discussing marriage and relationship recognition.

lesbian and gay parents — Use when discussing parenting and adoption.

sexual orientation —  For example: “Sexual orientation can be a complex topic. A person’s orientation is an essential part of who they are—whether they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.”

transgender — Describes those whose gender identity and/or gender expression (see below) is different from the sex that was assigned to them at birth. At some point in their lives, transgender people realize they must live their lives as the gender they know themselves to be, and often transition to living as that gender. Transgender is an umbrella term that can include people who are transsexual, cross-dressers or those who are otherwise gender non-conforming.

lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — The abbreviation “LGBT,” while used frequently in the LGBT community, can be confusing and alienating to those who are not yet completely familiar with the issues or fully supportive. Reference both sexual orientation and gender identity when talking about issues related to both. Use the term or terms that are clearest for your audience.


gender identity — A person’s internal sense of gender.

gender expression — How a person outwardly expresses their gender, often through clothing, hair style, voice and body characteristics, and behavior.

same-gender-loving (SGL): a term often used in the African American community to describe those members of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community.


equal rights  — While the term civil rights often hinders conversations with African Americans about LGBT equality, African Americans tend to embrace talking about equal rights for LGBT people. Equal rights evokes feelings of how we are all alike and the common ground that all people share (See TERMS TO AVOID for why we recommend avoiding civil rights comparisons).

discrimination — An overwhelming majority of African Americans strongly agree that LGBT Americans experience discrimination. Discrimination is unifying language for African Americans and the LGBT community—however, it is generally not effective with other audiences.

fairness and equality; treating people fairly and equally — For example: “Everyone should be treated fairly and equally,” “She supports fairness and equality”. These are core values and priorities
that African Americans and LGBT Americans share.


“homosexual(s),” “sexual preference,” “gay/homosexual lifestyle,” “same-sex attractions” — These are terms used by anti-gay activists to stigmatize and denigrate lesbian, gay and bisexual people—either by reducing their lives to purely sexual terms, or by claiming that being gay is a choice, and therefore can be “changed” or “cured.”

“transgendered,” “tranny,” “transvestite” — Adding an “-ed” to the end of transgender connotes a condition of some kind. Always use transgender as an adjective (e.g., transgender person, transgender woman, transgender man), and avoid terms (e.g., “tranny”) that denigrate transgender people.

“queer”  Traditionally a pejorative term, queer has been appropriated by some LGBT people to describe themselves. However, it is not universally accepted even within the LGBT community and should be avoided unless quoting or describing someone who self-identifies that way

civil rights — Avoid using the term “civil rights” or making civil rights comparisons when talking about LGBT equality. Most African Americans hold to a very specific meaning of civil rights—and when advocates for LGBT equality use the term, it can lead many African Americans to focus on what they perceive as differences with LGBT people rather than on common ground. Instead, talk about equal rights. 

conflict-laden language — In general, avoid talking about pursuing equality for LGBT people as if it is a “war,” “fight” or “battle.” These kinds of metaphors can create distance with many audiences.

“hate,” “bigotry,” “prejudice” — Avoid highly charged, argumentative terms like “hate” and “bigotry,” which are likely to alienate people. Instead, use language that is measured and relatable, such as intolerance, exclusion, rejection or unfairness to illustrate how LGBT people are hurt.


Coming out is the process in which a person acknowledges being lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender, and shares that with others. Publicly revealing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity may or may not be part of coming out.

“Outing” occurs when a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is publicly revealed without their consent.  Outing can have serious and damaging repercussions on a person’s employment, safety, family relationships, and many other important parts of their lives.