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Vocabulary and Symbols


Key Terms:

Agender: Person is internally ungendered.

Ally: Someone who advocates for, supports, and accepts members of a community other than their own. Allies reach across differences to achieve mutual goals. LGBTQI (Safe Zone) Allies take action to combat homophobia and heterosexism within themselves, others, and in societal institutions.

Androgyne: Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor women, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.

Asexual: Having no evident sex or sex organs. In usage, may refer to a person who is not sexually active, or not sexually attracted to other people.

Bisexual: Also “bi.” This term refers to a person who is attracted to two sexes or two genders, but not necessarily simultaneously or equally. This used to be defined as a person who is attracted to both genders or both sexes, but since there are not only two sexes (see intersex and transsexual) and there are not only two genders (see transgender), this definition is inaccurate. (Traditionally, Bisexual people are defined as having erotic, affectionate, romantic feelings for, fantasies of, and experiences with women and men, and/or who self-identify as bisexual.)

Cisgender: A gender identity that aligs with the gender assigned at birth.

Gay: Sexual identity of homosexual men, although some homosexual women may also use this term.

Gender: 1) A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures. Words that refer to gender include: man, woman, transgender, masculine, feminine, and gender queer. 2) One's sense of self as masculine or feminine regardless of external genitalia. Gender is often conflated with sex. This is inaccurate because sex refers to bodies and gender refers to personality characteristics.

Gender Binary: The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or.  (See also ‘Identity Sphere.’)

Gender Identity: One's self-perceived gender. This can include refusing to label oneself with a gender. Gender identity is also often conflated with sexual orientation, but this is inaccurate. Gender identity does not cause sexual orientation. Gender identity is also distinct from sexual orientation. For example, a masculine woman is not necessarily a lesbian.

Genderqueer: A gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.  Often includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.

Heterosexuality: Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to a sex other than your own. Commonly thought of as “attraction to the opposite sex” but since there are not only two sexes (see intersex and transsexual), this definition is inaccurate.

Homosexuality: Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to the same sex.

Intersex: Intersexuality is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with "sex chromosomes," external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered "standard" for either male or female. The existence of intersexuals shows that there are not just two sexes and that our ways of thinking about sex (trying to force everyone to fit into either the male box or the female box) is socially constructed.

Lesbian: A woman attracted to women. Lesbian is derived from the Greek isle of Lesbos, where the poet Sappho has a school in 400 B.C. and is one of the oldest and most positive terms for gay women.

LGBTQIA: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual.  The “Q” can also stand for those individuals who are “questioning” their gender or sexual identity.

Non-binary: Describes gender identities which are outside of the male and female binary.

Pansexual: A person who is fluid in sexual orientation and/or gender or sex identity.  One who exhibits many forms of sexual expression and may love men, women, transgendered people and gender fluid people.

Polyamory: The practice of having multiple open, honest, usually non-possessive relationships.

Sexual Orientation: The direction of an individual’s emotional, physical, and sexual attraction to others, which may be toward the same gender (homosexual), the "opposite" gender(heterosexual), or "both"/multiple genders (bisexual/pansexual). Sexual orientation exists on a continuum, rather than as a set of distinct categories.

Straight: Person who is attracted to a gender other than their own. Commonly thought of as “attraction to the opposite gender,” but since there are not only two genders (see transgender), this definition is inaccurate.  Heterosexual, lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals use the term straight to refer to heterosexuals.

Transgender: A gender idenetity that does not align with gender assigned at birth.

* Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the difference between biological sex, which is one’s body (genitals, chromosomes, etc.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity. Often, society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same thing. But, gender and sex are not the same thing. Transgender people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with.

Transgender is not a sexual orientation; transgender people may have any sexual orientation. It is important to acknowledge that while some people may fit under this definition of transgender, they may not identify as such.

Queer: 1) An umbrella term to refer to all LGBTIQ people 2) A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid. 3) A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer. Many older LGBT people feel the word has been hatefully used against them for too long and are reluctant to embrace it.  Originally a synonym for “odd”, this word became a derogatory expression for gays in the 20th Century.  Even though many people still use “queer” as an anti-gay epithet, a movement emerged in the 1980s that calls itself queer.  Used in this way, queer means sexually dissident, but not necessarily gay.  Many gays, transsexuals, bisexuals, and even heterosexuals whose sexuality doesn’t fit into the cultural standard of monogamous heterosexual marriage have adopted the “queer” label.


Other Important Vocabulary:

BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Submission/Sadism, and Masochism): The terms ‘submission/sadism’ and ‘masochism’ refer to deriving pleasure from inflicting or receiving pain, often in a sexual context.  The terms ‘bondage’ and ‘domination’ refer to playing with various power roles, in both sexual and social context.  These practices are often misunderstood as abusive, but when practiced in a safe, sane, and consensual manner can be a part of a healthy sex life. (Sometimes referred to as ‘leather.’)

Bias: Prejudice; an inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment.

Binding: The process of flattening one’s breasts to have a more masculine or flat appearing chest.

Biphobia: The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals. Biphobia can be seen within the LGBTQI community, as well as in general society.

Bottom Surgery: Surgery on the genitals designed to create a body in harmony with a person’s preferred gender expression.

Butch: A person who identifies themselves as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally.  ‘Butch’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but it can also be claimed as an affirmative identity label.

Cissexism: The assumption that every person to be cisgender, therefore marginalizing persons who do not identify as cisgender. The belief that a cisgender identity is superior to transgender or non-binary idntities; policies and practices that serve to elevate cisgender exclusivity and subordinate transgender identities.

Closeted or In the closet: To hide one’s sexual orientation.

“Coming Out” orComing Out of the Closet”: A metaphor for disclosing one’s sexual orientation to others. To recognize one's sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex identity, and to be open about it with oneself and with others.  This term was adopted by lesbians and gay men to describe the process of becoming aware and expressing one’s sexual identity. 

Cross-dresser: Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.

Discrimination: Prejudice + power.  The act of showing partiality or prejudice; a prejudicial act.

Domestic Partner: One who lives with their beloved and/or is at least emotionally and financially connected in a supportive manner with another. This term is another word for spouse, lover, significant other, etc.

Dominant culture: Cultural values, beliefs, and practices that are assumed to be the most common and influential within a given society.

Drag: The act of dressing in gendered clothing as part of a performance. Drag Queens perform in highly feminine attire. Drag Kings perform in highly masculine attire. Drag may be performed as a political comment on gender, as parody, or simply as entertainment. Drag performance does not indicate sexuality, gender identity, or sex identity.

Drag King: A person who performs masculinity theatrically.

Drag Queen: A person who performs femininity theatrically.

Ethnicity:  One’s identity based on national origin, ancestry, and culture.

Family of choice (chosen family): Persons or group of people an individual sees as significant in his or her life. It may include none, all, or some members of his or her family of origin. In addition, it may include individuals such as significant others, domestic partners, friends, and coworkers.

Femme: Feminine identified person of any gender/sex.

FTM or F2M: Female to Male transgender or transsexual person.

Gender Attribution : Holding people to traditional expectations based on gender, or punishing or excluding those who don't conform to traditional gender expectations.

Gender Conformity: When your gender identity and sex “match” (i.e. fit social norms). An example would be a male who is masculine and identifies as a man.

Gender Cues: What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of another person.  Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc.  Cues vary by culture.

Gender Identity Disorder: The term used for a condition defined in the DSM4 by the American Psychiatric Association.

Gender-neutral: Nondiscriminatory language to describe relationships—e.g. “spouse” and “partner” are gender-neutral alternatives to the gender-specific words “husband,” “wife,” “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

Gender Role: How “masculine” or “feminine” an individual acts. Societies commonly have norms regarding how males and females should behave, expecting people to have personality characteristics and/or act a certain way based on their biological sex.

Gender-Variant / Gender Non-conforming: Displaying gender traits that are not normatively associated with their biological sex. “Feminine” behavior or appearance in a male is gender-variant as is “masculine” behavior or appearance a female. Gender-variant behavior is culturally specific.

Hate crime: Hate crime legislation often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.

He/Him: Pronouns typically referring to masculine identified individuals.

Heterosexism: The assumption that every person to be heterosexual therefore marginalizing persons who do not identify as heterosexual. The belief that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality and all other sexual orientations; policies and practices that serve to elevate heterosexuality and subordinate homosexuality.

Heterosexual Privilege: Benefits derived automatically by being (or being perceived as) heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals, bisexuals, and queers.

Homophobia: The irrational fear and intolerance of people who are homosexual or of homosexual feelings within one's self. This assumes that heterosexuality is superior.  Homophobia may be viewed as a fear of closeness and intimacy with others of your gender that manifests itself in hatred, revulsion, disgust, and culturally sanctioned prejudice and violence.

Identity Sphere: The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all expression without weighting any one expression as better than another.

Institutional Oppression: Arrangement of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media education, religion, economics, etc.

Internalized Oppression: The process by which an oppressed person comes to believe, accept, or live out the inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group.

Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

Metrosexual: First used in 1994 by British journalist Mark Simpson, who coined the term to refer to an urban, heterosexual male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.  This term can be perceived as derogatory because it reinforces stereotypes that all gay men are fashion-conscious and materialistic.

MTF/M2F: Male to Female Transsexual.

On Testosterone: When a FTM takes the hormone testosterone

“Outing” – The act of revealing another’s sexual orientation, usually without permission. Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Pronouns: Identifiers by which people choose to use to describe themselves and others. (e.g. she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/hir)

Rainbow Flag: The Rainbow Freedom Flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker to designate the great diversity of the LGBTIQ community. The International Flag Makers Association has recognized it as the official flag of the LGBTIQ civil rights movement.

Sex: Refers to a person based on their anatomy (external genitalia, chromosomes, and internal reproductive system). Sex terms are male, female, transsexual, and intersex. Sex is biological, although social views and experiences of sex are cultural.

Sex Identity: One's self-perceived sexual identity. This can include refusing to label oneself with a sex.   

Sexual Identity: How one labels themselves within a sexual orientation category

Sexual Minority: 1) Refers to members of sexual orientations or who engage in sexual activities that are not part of the mainstream. 2) Refers to members of sex groups that do not fall into the majority categories of male or female, such as intersexuals and transsexuals.

She/Her: Pronouns typically referring to feminine identified individuals.

Stealth: This term refers to when a person chooses to be secretive in the public sphere about their gender history, either after transitioning or while successful passing.  (Also referred to as ‘going stealth’ or ‘living in stealth mode’.)

Stereotype: An exaggerated oversimplified belief about an entire group of people without regard for individual differences.

They/Them: Gender-neutral pronouns that can be used instead of his/her.

Transition: This is a complicated, multi-step process that can take years as transsexuals align their anatomy with their sex identity; this process may ultimately include sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

Transphobia: Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment and discrimination.

Two-Spirited: Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans).  Their dress is usually a mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender.  The term two-spirit is usually considered to be specific to the Zuni tribe.  Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.

Ze: Gender-neutral pronouns that can be used instead of he/she.

Zir/Hir: Gender-neutral pronouns that can be used instead of his/her.


  • Abilock, T. (2001). USF Safe Zone Ally Manual, unpublished document.
  • The University of California, Berkeley Gender Equity Resource Center
  • Volcabulary derived from,, and Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, 14, Number 3 & 4, 1983, page 30. Jan. 22, 2003.


Symbols of LGBTQIA+ Pride

Rainbow Colors

6 Color Rainbow FlagThe rainbow flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in San Francisco in the late 70s to celebrate the diversity of the gay and lesbian community. It is now recognized by the international Congress of Flag Makers as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride. One variation on the traditional sex-color design includes a back stripe on the bottom, commemorating those who have died of AIDS.



Upside Down TrianglesThe origin of these symbols dates back to Nazi Germany. Gay men condoned to the concentration camps were forced to wear pink triangle, point down, much like Jews were required to wear a yellow Start of David. Lesbians, prostitutes, and other women labeled “deviant” by the Nazi regime were likewise required to wear a black triangle. In the 1970s, Gay and Lesbian liberation groups have reclaimed these symbols as a source of remembrance and pride.   


Awareness Ribbon

Awareness RibbonThe Red was conceived in 1991 by Visual AIDS, a New York-based charity group wished to recognized and honor friends and colleagues who are dying of AIDS. The pink ribbon has become a symbol for breast Cancer Awareness.


Gender Symbols Gender Symbols

Gender Symbols are common astrological sings handed down from ancient roman times. The pointed Mars symbol represents the male and the Venus symbol with the cross represents the female. Double interlocking male and female symbols have come to represent gay and lesbian couples.



Lambda SymbolThe eleventh letter of the Greek Alphabet was chosen in 1970 by the Gay Activists Alliance in New York as a symbol of liberation. While its meaning is debated, one explanation is that the lambda represents synergy, the concept that the whole is greater than its independent parts.


Leather and Bears

Leather and Bear Pride FlagsThe leather Pride Flag (with a heart) was created in 1989 as a symbol of those into leather and other related fetishes; it is not an exclusively gay symbol. The bear Pride Flag (with a paw print) is a symbol representing “bears,” typically larger gay men marked by an abundance of hair on their face, chest, and body.



Trangendered TriangleThe mercury symbol contains a crescent moon represents the masculine, and a cross representing the feminine, located on opposite ends for balance. A fused Venus and Mars symbol is also used. The transgender triangle was developed recently by Nancy Nangeroni.


Purple Hand

Purple HandOn Halloween night, October 31, 1969, sixty members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) staged a protest at the offices of the San Francisco Examiner in response to a series of news articles disparaging LGBTQI people in San Francisco's gay bars and clubs. Inspired by the “Black Hand” GLBT activists attempted to institute "purple hand" as a gay and lesbian symbol as a warning to stop anti-gay attacks.



The labrys symbol.

The Labrys has become a symbol of lesbian and feminist strength and self-sufficiency.



Bisexual Flag

The bisexual flag

Known as a symbol for bisexual men and women.



Adapted from Abilock, T. (2001). USF Safe Zone Ally Manual, unpublished document.


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