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There are many words and labels used in reference to sexual orientation and gender identity.  Sometimes a label can have multiple definitions or can be reworked to reflect social and cultural changes; other words are abandoned because of their inaccuracies or because of the stigma attached to them. Further, new labels are created in order to shed light on different facets of human experience that we are just beginning to better understand.  Yet in and of themselves, words do not have power—it’s how we understand and use them that make them powerful. The following are just a sample of the many definitions used today to refer to the gender and sexually diverse community.

Defining the LGBTQQHIP2SAA* acronym:

Lesbian – a gender specific term that refers to women who have relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) with other women.

Gay – even though gay is a non-gender specific term, gay is typically defined as men who have relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) with other men.

Bisexual – an individual who has or can have relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) with men and women.

Transgender – often used as an umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity and gender expression/behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.  This term can include (but is not limited to) the following categories:

  • Transsexual – an individual who identifies with a physical sex that is different from the one to which they were assigned at birth.  People who transition from male to female (MtF) are transsexual women or transwomen. People who transition from female to male (FtM) are transsexual men or transmen. Other commonly used terms within this category are “pre-operative,” “operative,” and “post-operative” transsexual; however, being transsexual is neither limited to nor dependent on undergoing surgery or taking hormones.
  • Cross Dressing – performed by primarily heterosexual men who wear “female attire” for a variety of reasons. The term cross dressing has replaced transvestite as a term to describe this segment of the population because transvestites are stereotyped as people who seek sexual pleasure from wearing clothes that are typically associated with the opposite sex; in this way, transvestite is a very narrow definition.
  • Drag Queen – predominantly gay & bisexual men who dress in “female attire” for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: as a socio-political statement, as a way to play with gender norms, as a gay relevant art form (an important part of queer culture), as a means of self-expression, or as a way to have fun.
  • Drag King – predominantly lesbian & bisexual women who dress in “male attire” for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: as a socio-political statement, as a way to play with gender norms, as a gay relevant art form (an important part of queer culture), as a means of self-expression, or as a way to have fun.
  • Androgynous – an individual who possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics; someone who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles.
  • Genderqueer – commonly used as an umbrella term that refers to non-binary genders (identities between male and female).
  • Agender – “without gender”; someone who does not identify with or on the gender spectrum at all.

Queer – used as an umbrella term to encompass the gender and sexually diverse community. 

Questioning – refers to individuals who are in the process of figuring out where they might fit along the sexual orientation and/or gender continuums. 

Heterosexual – refers to individuals whose relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) are with or are perceived to be with members of the opposite sex and/or gender.

Intersex – a person whose biological sex is ambiguous. There are many genetic, hormonal, or anatomical variations that can make a person's sex ambiguous. The term intersex is not interchangeable or synonymous with the term transgender. As well, intersex has replaced the historically loaded term hermaphrodite.

Pansexual – from the root word meaning “all.” Pansexuality is similar to bisexuality except that pansexual individuals do not necessarily subscribe to the gender binary (the notion that only two genders, man and woman, exist) to define their desires. As such, some pansexuals refer to themselves as “gender blind” and they are open to having relationships with people who do not identify as strictly men or women.Pansexuality can also mean the attraction to a person's personality rather than their sex and/or gender.

Polysexual derived from the root that means “many but not all.” Polysexuality is an orientation that depends on the person—they are attracted to different characteristics of different genders. A polysexual person may be attracted to some genders but not all; for instance, they could be attracted to men and trans*men, but not women and trans*women. Polysexuality can also include the possibility of non-monogamous relationships, or polyamory; however, not all polysexual individuals are polyamorous.

Two-Spirit – commonly used to refer to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit individuals who are also gender and sexually diverse. Traditionally, a Two-Spirit person received the gift of housing both the male and female spirits in their body from the Creator; with this gift, they were given the ability to see the world from two perspectives at the same time. As well, Two-Spirit people were seen as inhabiting a third gender.  

Asexual – lacking interest in or desire for sex. Someone who does not experience sexual attraction or someone who experiences varying levels of sexual attraction, from some to none at all, depending on the situation and person. 

Ally – sometimes defined as queer-friendly heterosexual people; however, allies are much more than that! Allies believe that queer people should have the same rights as their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts and that queer folks are valuable members of society. Allies confront homo/bi/transphobic and heterosexist behaviours.

Other useful terms:

Biphobia – refers to any aversion felt towards bisexuality and towards bisexuals individually and collectively. Biphobia is not limited to the heterosexual community; gays and lesbians have also been known to persecute bisexual folks.

Homophobia – hatred that is directed towards gays, lesbians, anyone perceived as being gay or lesbian. Homophobia has also come to include a collection of beliefs that being gay or lesbian is unnatural and abnormal and that this justifies discrimination and/or acts of hate and violence. Also includes ignorance surrounding gay and lesbian identities and experiences.  

Homonegativity – negative behaviours and/or attitudes towards gender and sexually diverse people. Also includes biphobia and transphobia. The term homonegativity is increasingly being used in place of homophobia because negative behaviours and/or attitudes towards GSD people are understood as the result of ignorance rather than the result of fear (as the term “phobia” implies).

Transphobia – a range of negative attitudes and behaviours towards transsexual or transgender people based on the expression of their internal gender identity. Also includes ignorance surrounding trans identities and experiences.

GSD – stands for gender and sexually diverse or gender and sexual diversity; an umbrella term that, like the term queer, encompasses people of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Gender Continuum – the notion that, instead of a binary (“composed of two”), gender is a continuum or spectrum spanning from woman to man with an infinite number of gendered states in between. Understanding gender in this way helps to account for the obvious variety of and endless differences among human expressions of gender.

Gender-Variant – often used to describe behaviours or gender expressions that do not conform to dominant understandings male and female behaviours. Synonymous with gender non-conforming and gender atypical.

Sexual Orientation Continuum – like gender, sexual orientation can be arranged along a continuum from exclusive attraction to the opposite sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. It is usually discussed in terms of heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality.

Cisgender (gender-normative) – refers to those individuals who experience alignment between their perception of their gender and the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Simply, a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth and the gender role that accompanies that assignment.

Cissexual – an individual who identifies with the physical sex to which they were assigned at birth. For instance, someone who understands themselves as female and identifies with their female genitals.

Cisnormativity – the assumption that everyone you come into contact with is cisgender. Cisnormative assumptions prevent the creation of respectful and positive environments for trans people. Cisnormativity also refers to discrimination or prejudice against trans people on the assumption that cisgender is the norm.

Heterosexism – the assumption that everyone you come into contact with is heterosexual. Such an assumption discourages the creation of queer-positive attitudes and environments. Also discrimination or prejudice against queers on the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm. For instance, when you ask a man if he has a girlfriend or when you ask a woman what her husband does for a living, you are making an assumption about their sexual orientation.

Gay bashing – when a gay man, lesbian, or anyone who is perceived as gay or lesbian is assaulted by one or more people. The assault does not have to be physical; making someone fear for their well-being by making threats or chasing them is also considered gay bashing. Subset of homophobia and homonegativity.

Trans-bashing – the practice of victimizing a person because they are transsexual and/or transgender. Often includes physical violence, though making someone fear for their safety by making threats or chasing them is also considered trans-bashing. Unlike gay-bashing, this type of violence is associated with the individual’s gender expression and/or gender identity rather than their sexuality. Subset of transphobia.

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