What is LGBTQ? 

If you do an Internet search for “gay”, “glbt”, “lgbtq”, or “homosexuality” a lot of different terms start appearing. Many of these terms may mean something than what you’re use to hearing in everyday life. There are a lot of terms out there when it comes to describing the diversity that is covered by the umbrella that the acronym QUILTBAG (Queer/Questioning, Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgendered/Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual, or Gay/Genderqueer) covers.

The following definitions are provided as a guide, some people may use them differently or have their own definitions for the words. We are going to define them in how they are most commonly used.

Don’t worry if none of these completely fit you, or that you feel like one term describes you this week and another term next week. Part of being human is change and that includes our sexual orientation and our gender presentation. This doesn’t make your feelings any less real or that “it’s just a phase”. We are always learning, changing, and growing into ourselves no matter our age is.


Gay can refer to the sexual preference for a man or woman. What it means that someone is romantically or sexually attracted to another person who is the same gender as them. In common language, it usually refers to men who are attracted to other men. Some men who are attracted to other men don’t identify themselves as gay and that’s okay. It is up to the individual whether they want that term to be used to describe them. Gay refers to someone’s chosen label, not that actual behavior.


Lesbian is used for women who are attracted (romantically or sexually) to other women. It is individual choice whether a woman wants to be called gay, lesbian, bisexual, or none.


Bisexual is a term a person may choose to describe themselves when they are attracted (romantically or sexually) to both men and women. There are a lot of myths about people who are bisexual. Some of them are that they can’t make up their minds, or that they are really gay but don’t want to admit it. These are all not true. It is also important to remember that even if someone who is bisexual is dating someone that doesn’t make them heterosexual or gay. How someone chooses to identify (gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc) doesn’t necessarily change because they start seeing someone.


Transgender is a term that covers a lot of different experiences. A transgender person is someone who does not feel that the gender they were assigned at birth (boy or girl) matches who they are. This is different than sex, which is what their organs are. This could mean that they want to change their gender, such as male to female (MTF) or female to male (FTM) but still have their original sex parts (surgery is expensive!), although they would be considered the gender they want to have. Sometimes, a person feels like neither gender, or both genders, match how they feel and those people call themselves genderqueer. Not all people who change their gender have medical procedures done, or sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). It’s never appropriate to ask transgender people about their genitals, sex life, transition, sexual orientation, or birth name. Imagine if someone just walked up and starting asking questions about your body! For more information and a great article about how sex, gender, and sexual orientation are all different, check out Genderpalooza at Scarleteen. There they go into more detail about gender, covering terms such as crossdresser, intersex, transsexual, and more.


Queer is a newly reclaimed term, meaning that queer historically was a slur used about homosexual people and now it is a term that is used as a positive. Queer is used both as a term to describe the whole LBGTQ community, a new umbrella term instead of using LGBTQ because it covers more people. Queer is also a term individuals use to identify themselves. A good definition of queer is non-heterosexual or non-gender conforming (meaning they don’t follow the traditional rules about gender roles). Like the rest of the terms, it is best to ask how someone identifies before assume they call themselves queer or lesbian or gay or etc.


Questioning is a term that you might have been feeling without knowing what to call it. Questioning is a term used by people who are exploring or not sure of their sexuality or gender at the current moment. Not everyone questions their sexual orientation or gender, some people are solid in knowing who they are attracted to or what their gender is and some people are not. Neither person is better than the other. Also, some people question their sexual orientation or gender multiple times in their life, and that’s okay too.

No matter if you see yourself in these definitions or not, there are many more people out there who feel similar to you or share similar experiences as you. Part of being healthy is having community and a support network. If you feel like you are missing support about your sexual orientation or gender identity it can be good to reach out to other youth who are LGBTQ. Check our resource page for LGBTQ youth for suggestions how to get connected.


These terms are most often seen on health and social justice websites. MSM stands for Men having Sex with Men. WSW stands for Women having Sex with Women. SGL stands for Same Gender Loving. All these are alternative descriptions of sexual or romantic behaviors and not necessarily a term someone would use to call themselves.


This is for all our straight partners, friends, and family. Being our ally helps us on the daily to live happy, healthy, and violence-free lives. Thanks for supporting and loving us!