By now, you’ve surely become familiar with the acronym LGBT, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. It’s a great start, but it doesn’t quite encompass the vast, diverse spectrum of gender and sexuality.
Actually — one single word, label, or letter probably can’t ever encompass the full expanse of complex human ideas like gender and sexuality!
But labels do help us identify how we feel, connect with other people in our communities, and find a sense of belonging and comfort in our individual lives, bodies, and experiences.
After all, we’re all just little organisms on a floating rock in space, so it’s no wonder we’re just trying to make sense of everything as we go along.
These labels can be tricky because we never want to reduce people down to a single letter of the alphabet or make sweeping generalizations about a group of people — that’s part of the beauty of the queer community: there is so much diversity and human expression to celebrate!
That being said, it’s helpful to have shared vocabulary to help us figure out our own identities, empathize with others, and get a fuller, richer picture of all of us silly little earthlings.
Still want to know more? We figured. There’s a lot to unpack! Let’s go through this new alphabet together. Here is a guide to the acronym LGBTQIA+ —
What Does LGBTQ+ Stand For?
‘LGBTQIA+’ represents a vast and inclusive spectrum encompassing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual identities, with the plus sign acknowledging additional identities beyond these categories. This evolving acronym captures the richness of the diverse community.
At Good Good Good, we use the acronym LGBTQ+ in accordance with AP Style — and also to acknowledge and celebrate folks who identify with other labels, like “queer.” With the help of information from The Center and GLAAD, we’ll break it down a little further:
L - Lesbian
A lesbian is someone who identifies as a woman whose physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other women.
Some lesbians might also call themselves “gay” or refer to themselves as “gay women.” It’s all the same vibe!
G - Gay
“Gay” has become a blanket term to describe a person attracted to the same gender. Historically, the term referred to someone who identified as a man and was attracted to other men.
B - Bisexual
A person who is bisexual is attracted to more than one gender. Similarly, someone who is pansexual is attracted to someone regardless of gender.
Sometimes, folks will use the term “bi+” to encompass both bisexual and pansexual labels. While some individuals might use these terms interchangeably, some may also prefer to stick to one or the other to best describe their experience.
Bisexuality has historically been considered the attraction to both cisgender men and women, but there truly is a lot more nuance to keep in mind.
T - Transgender
“Transgender” is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.
There are lots of terms that might be used under this umbrella, including “non-binary,” “gender non-conforming,” or others.
It’s important to note that trans people have a wide array of different experiences. Some trans folks may physically transition with the help of gender-affirming care like hormones or procedures to bring their body to better alignment with their gender identity. However, not all trans people can or will pursue those options, and they’re still trans!
A transgender identity is not defined by physical appearance or medical procedures, and folks are valid in whichever ways they choose to express their identities.
Q - Queer
“Queer” is a large umbrella term that is not necessarily exclusive to any single identity and encompasses people whose sexual orientations are not exclusively heterosexual.
Although anyone in the LGBTQ+ community might call themselves queer, the queer label often includes folks who are nonbinary, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming, too, identifying beyond more binary terms like “gay” or “lesbian.”
“A wide array of LGBT people and other sexual minorities call themselves queer as a more expressive and expansive umbrella term for their sexualities and genders,” Tyler Ford said in a video for Them.
It’s also important to note that this word was long used as a slur toward the LGBT community and has more modernly been reclaimed as a way to describe oneself. However, it is still not always universally accepted within the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s important to be thoughtful when using this term.
Q - Questioning
Sometimes, the Q in LGBTQ+ can mean “questioning,” a term used to describe someone who is questioning their relationship to sexual orientation and gender identity. This term is often used in settings addressing young people.
This is a great time to remind you to ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientation!
What Does IA Stand for in LGBTQIA?
You’re doing great; here are a few more letters that are important to know!
I - Intersex
The I in LGBTQIA+ stands for “Intersex.” This term is used to describe people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosome pattern that cannot be classified as “male” or “female.” It can also reflect someone who doesn’t identify with a specific gender.
A - Asexual
Someone who identifies as asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Occasionally shortened to “ace,” this term can also include folks who are demisexual (someone who experiences some sexual attraction, but only in certain situations).
In a similar vein, aromantic folks are also often connected to ace individuals, as someone who does not experience romantic attraction.
PS… the A does not stand for ‘ally.’ Sorry, y’all, you don’t get your own letter.
What Does the Plus Sign Stand for in LGBTQIA+?
Plus Sign - Humans Are Infinitely Interesting
It’s not about math! We promise there’s no algebra involved here. The plus sign in LGBTQIA+ represents those who do not identify with one of the aforementioned letters in the acronym.
The plus sign alludes to folks who might be agender (someone who does not identify with having a gender), polyamorous (someone who is consensually in a relationship with multiple people), pansexual (someone who is attracted to people regardless of their gender), or any manner of other identities.
Basically, the plus sign is there to help remind us that there is always more room to widen the spectrum of gender and sexuality, and that it’s nearly impossible to contain humans to any handful of terms.
It’s almost like an arrow that points infinitely toward the immense breadth of the human experience (if you want to get all poetic about it).
What Does LGBTQ2S+ Stand For?
LGBTQ2S+ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Two-Spirit.
“Two-Spirit” is a term used in the Native American and Indigenous communities, referring to someone who has both a masculine and feminine spirit, or as an umbrella term to define the sexual, gender or spiritual identity among Indigenous peoples.
What Does LGBTQQIP2SAA Stand For?
If you want to be as inclusive as possible (and have lots of time, energy, and space to write or type it out), LGBTQQIP2SAA is a full acronym for the queer community. It includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirit, Androgynous, and Asexual identities.
More LGBTQ+ Terms To Know
If you’re looking for a full glossary of LGBTQ+ terms, we’d encourage you to explore resources like GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide or the UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center glossary! But here are a few more crash-course-style vocab words to know:
- Closeted: Someone who is not open about their sexual orientation
- Coming Out: A lifelong process of self-acceptance (and often, disclosure of one’s identity with others)
- Cisgender: Aligning with the gender you were assigned at birth
- Deadnaming: Calling a person by a name they no longer use
- Fluid: A term that alludes to someone’s gender identity changing over time
- Non-binary: A term used to describe someone whose gender identity or gender expression falls outside the binary of man or woman
- Unlabeled: Anyone who prefers to exist without labels or descriptions in regard to their sexual preferences, gender identity, or gender expression
Why Did the Original Term Change?
For a long time, “gay” and “lesbian” were the only words used to describe people who weren’t heterosexual. It wasn’t until the 1990s when “bisexual” and “transgender” were added to the acronym to create a more inclusive term for the community as a whole.
Still, the acronym left other groups out, and now we continue to expand and enrich these labels to be as inclusive as possible — just like we’ve done with Pride flags.
(LGBTQIA+ is kind of like how we use BIPOC to represent Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to refer to other marginalized groups in certain contexts. Sometimes it just makes sense to include all members of certain communities in our language!)
What If I Don’t Identify with Any of These Letters?
That’s totally OK, too. As humans, our identities and experiences are always evolving and changing, and as much as these terms can help us, sometimes they can add to the confusion, too.
You don’t have to force yourself into any box or label that doesn’t feel right, and there are lots of words and terms out there that might fit you even better, but just aren’t as widely used (yet!).
Like we mentioned earlier, there are countless resources and guides beyond this one that can help you make sense of you. All you need to know right now is that you belong just as you are.