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How well do you know LGBTQ+ terms?

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Group photo spot.
Brandon Breault fanned his son Spencer Wohlman, 15 months, as people took group photos in Target's Take Pride area of the Twin Cities Pride Festival in Loring Park in Minneapolis in June 2015.
Courtney Perry for MPR News 2015

In 2014, Facebook added more than 50 new ways to its list for identifying one’s gender on their page. By one estimate, we have more than 70 words to describe one’s gender and/or sexuality in English. 

Some of you may find those expressions foreign, too similar to each other or just so confusing. Let us explain what some key LGBTQ+ terms mean and how and when you use them – when you finish reading this, you might find a different way or two to identify yourself. 

Sexual orientation, gender and sex

First of all, we need to talk about how gender is different from sex. Ideas around genders are ever-evolving and include way broader definitions than just men and women.

Sex, such as male and female; men and women; boys and girls, can be used under medical or scientific context when such clarity is necessary to define a person’s biological characteristics.

Gender or gender identity, on the other hand, is socially constructed and can be related to one’s sex but not always. According to the World Health Organization, gender identity “refers to a person’s deeply felt, internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physiology or designated sex at birth.”

Then what about sexual orientation? It’s about who you feel romantically, emotionally and/or sexually attracted to, not how you’re identified biologically or socially. If one is romantically attracted to another who’s not the same gender, that’s called heterosexual or straight; and when one is attracted to another with the same gender, they might call themselves gay, lesbian or homosexual. 


The term LGBTQ+, with plus meaning that it’s ever-expanding, encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer and more. Sometimes it can be used in other forms like LGBT or LGBTQIA, of which definition also includes intersex and asexual. 

Bisexual, also often just called “bi,” describes people who are attracted to more than one gender. Some might prefer to be called pansexual, meaning they are attracted to others regardless of their genders.

Transgender is an umbrella term referring to people whose gender identity does not match their gender/sex they were assigned at birth. For someone to identify as transgender does not require medical procedures such as gender alignment or sex reassignment processes. 

Letter Q in the term LGBTQ+ can mean two different ideas: queer or questioning. Queer describes someone who is not heterosexual and/or cisgender. When a person isn’t certain about their gender identity or sexual orientation, they can identify themselves gender or sexual orientation questioning


Cisgender, originated from a Latin word, “cis,” meaning “on this side of,” describes people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. It’s different from “heterosexual” or “straight,” which describes people who are romantically, emotionally and/or physically attracted to someone of the opposite sex.

Nonbinary, genderqueer and genderfluid

Some people use these words interchangeably, while others don’t. No word is perfect when it comes to describing the complexity surrounding gender identities, and these terms do have differences in their definitions and social implications. 

Nonbinary people see the gender identities outside of the traditional “male or female” or “man or woman” boundary. Nonbinary is used as an umbrella term to encompass genderqueer, gender-expansive and gender-nonconforming. 

Genderqueer people, like those of nonbinary, also do not subscribe to the gender binary, and often reject the idea of the conventional gender categories. They often find themselves identified neither male or female; both male and female; or something else beyond the binary norms. 

“The world is not binary. Something I have learned from being a sex educator, specifically at Family Tree, is how everything is on a spectrum,” said Jacki Trelawny, the director of community engagement at Family Tree Clinic in Minneapolis working to improve access to reproductive and sexual health services and eliminate health disparities. “I think that we would have less violence in the world, if people were able to claim their pronouns and actually have a flexible and fluid way to express and see your gender.” 

Genderfluid, as the word “fluid” implies, describes those who do not stick to one gender identity and change how they identify themselves over time. A genderfluid person may call themselves male at one point and female at another, or nonbinary another time.

“Folks who have more of a nonbinary kind of identity, they might be using he/him pronouns on Monday and she/her pronouns on Wednesday and they/them pronouns on Thursday,” said Roxanne Anderson, director of the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition. “So I think asking is essential: What pronouns are you using today? Or what are your pronouns again? And referring back to the name, it's always OK to go back to their name, especially if you're using the name that they choose.”


Oxford Dictionaries defines “intersectionality” as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

The term “intersectionality” and “intersectional theory” were first introduced by UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 1980s to explain how gender and race interact and cannot be separated from each other. In the study, Crenshaw explored how Black women had been traditionally marginalized in research and conversations looking into feminism and antiracism.

“When we think about discrimination or oppression of folks who are marginalized, a lot of the times when we're talking about it, we only talk about one identity,” says Vangie Castro, a community organizer and LGBTQ+ human rights advocate in Olmsted County, Minn. Castro was born in the Philippines and identifies as a nonbinary, genderqueer person of color. “How we see ourselves in the world, and how people see us in the world, it is based on multilayers of our identities.”

Take our #Pride quiz to test your knowledge of key terms to better understand LGBTQ+ communities and intersectionality

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