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LGBTQ+ 101

Queer and trans identities are diverse, and the ever expanding acronym LGBTQ+ remains incomplete. One of the great things about queer communities is the ways we are always coming up with new language to describe our bodies, identities and selves – but that also makes it hard to be totally inclusive of our fabulous communities. We use the acronym LGBTQ+ here to recognize the many additional identities – like two-spirit, pansexual, asexual, aromantic, questioning – but are most definitely open to other suggestions.

Term List

This section introduces the concepts of sexuality and gender, and provides a quick overview of some of the diversity that makes up queer communities.


  • This initialism stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.
    • "The '+' represents those who are part of the community, but for who LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity" (PFLAG).
  • There are a variety of inconsistent acronyms, in addition to this one.
  • To learn more about these specific identities, read on!


  • “In mainstream Canadian society, heterosexuality is still presented as the norm in policy, law, media and classrooms. These norms create an invisible system known as heterosexism that overlooks queer identities, relationships and values” (Community-Based Research Centre).


  • “Cissexism is the assumption that people are cisgender, that is people whose current gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, women who were assigned a female sex at birth are cisgender” (Community-Based Research Centre).
  • “Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex, specifically towards transgender and gender-expansive people” (PFLAG).


  • Intersectionality maintains that “many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice” (The Urgency of Intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw). Our identities of sexuality, gender, race, class, ability, etc. all intersect and impact each other.

Sexual Orientation

  • “Emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings toward other people or no people (see Asexual). While sexual activity involves the choices one makes regarding behavior, one’s sexual activity does not define one’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is part of the human condition, and all people have one. Typically, it is attraction that helps determine orientation” (PFLAG).


  • Gender includes both identity and expression:
    • “Gender Identity: A person’s deeply held core sense of self in relation to gender (see Gender). Gender identity does not always correspond to biological sex. People become aware of their gender identity at many different stages of life, from as early as 18 months and into adulthood. [...] Gender identity is a separate concept from sexuality [...] and gender expression” (PFLAG).
    • “Gender Expression: The manner in which a person communicates about gender to others through external means such as clothing, appearance, or mannerisms. This communication may be conscious or subconscious and may or may not reflect their gender identity or sexual orientation” (PFLAG).



  • “Refers to a woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to other women” (PFLAG).


  • “An term used to describe people who are emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender (e.g., gay man, gay people). In contemporary contexts, lesbian is often a preferred term for women, though many women use the term gay to describe themselves” (PFLAG).


  • “A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree” (Human Rights Campaign)


  • “A term describing a person’s gender identity that does not necessarily match their assigned sex at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity. This word is also used as an umbrella term to describe groups of people who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression—such groups include, but are not limited to, people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, and androgynous” (PFLAG).


  • “A term used to refer to an individual whose gender identity aligns with the one associated with the sex assigned to them at birth” (PFLAG).


  • “An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do. Non-binary can also be used as an umbrella term encompassing identities such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender-fluid” (Human Rights Campaign).


  • “A term used within some [Indigenous] communities to refer to a person who identifies as having both a male and a female essence or spirit. The term  [...] encompasses sexual, cultural, gender, and spiritual identities, and provides unifying, positive, and encouraging language that emphasizes reconnecting to tribal traditions. Non-indigenous people should not use this term” (PFLAG).


  • “Intersex is the current term used to refer to people who are biologically between the medically expected definitions of male and female. This can be through variations in hormones, chromosomes, internal or external genitalia, or any combination of any or all primary and/or secondary sex characteristics. While many intersex people are noticed as intersex at birth, many are not. As intersex is about biological sex, it is distinct from gender identity and sexual orientation. An intersex person can be of any gender identity and can also be of any sexual orientation and any romantic orientation” (PFLAG).


  • “A term used by some LGBTQ+ people to describe themselves and/or their community. Reclaimed from its earlier negative use—and valued by some for its defiance—the term is also considered by some to be inclusive of the entire community, and by others who find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities. Traditionally a negative or pejorative term for people who are LGBTQ+, some people within the community dislike the term” (PFLAG).
  • “A term people often use to express a spectrum of identities and orientations that are counter to the mainstream. Queer is often used as a catch-all to include many people, including those who do not identify as exclusively straight and/or folks who have non-binary or genderexpansive identities. This term was previously used as a slur, but has been reclaimed by many parts of the LGBTQ movement” (Human Rights Campaign).


  • “Sometimes abbreviated as ace, the term refers to an individual who does not experience sexual attraction. Each asexual person experiences relationships, attraction, and arousal differently. Asexuality is distinct from chosen behavior such as celibacy or sexual abstinence; asexuality is a sexual orientation that does not necessarily entail specific chosen behaviors. Asexual people exist on a spectrum of sexual attraction and can use terms such as gray asexual or gray ace to describe themselves” (PFLAG).


  • “Sometimes abbreviated as aro (pronounced ā-row), the term refers to an individual who does not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic people exist on a spectrum of romantic attraction and can use terms such as gray aromantic or grayromantic to describe their place within that spectrum. Aromantic people can experience sexual attraction” (PFLAG).


  • “Refers to a person whose emotional, romantic and/or physical attraction is to people inclusive of all genders. [...] Pansexuality and bisexuality are different; pansexuality includes all genders equally, whereas bisexuality can favor some genders over others” (PFLAG).

Further Reading

To learn more terms, check out these resources:

To learn more about specific identities and positions, check out these resources:

Want to discuss or learn more? Join a OOTS Social Group, or check out the resources at our library

Questions or comments? Contact

This text intro was written by Sarah Chown and Jillian Brown and was later edited by Griffin H. Heaney on April 16, 2021.

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Out On The Shelf is an inclusive LGBTQ2IA+ library and resource centre. We strive to provide a safe space for all members of the queer and trans communities and their allies.

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