Rainbow connection together withPUBLISHED JUN 1, 2019

What is an Ally? LGBTQ+ Terms and Allyship

Pride terms

The Story

There are millions of people around the world that identify as LGBTQ+. And there are a lot of acronyms and terms you should know while waving the pride flag.

I’m ready.

Start with the difference between these essential three:

Sex: A label—male, female, or intersex—assigned at birth based on your biological makeup.

Gender identity: A person’s sense of their own gender. Can be the same or different from one's assigned sex at birth. It’s how one perceives and carries themselves.

Sexual orientation: A person’s attraction to another person. Think: emotional, physical, romantic, spiritual and more.

People like to say: gender identity is who you go to bed as, sexual orientation is who you go to bed with...or don’t.

Now let’s get into the details.


Agender: Someone who is genderless, doesn’t have a gender identity, or is gender neutral.


Ally: A person who is not LGBTQ+ but supports LGBTQ+ people and promotes equality. An ally stands up to discriminatory behavior and works to understand the complexities of the LGBTQ+ community.


Androgynous: Identifying and/or presenting as neither specifically feminine nor masculine. Not to be confused with agender.


Asexual: A person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction or desire for other people. This shouldn't be confused with celibacy, which is a choice. Asexuality is a sexual orientation.


Binary: The concept of dividing sex or gender into two categories. Sex: male or female, gender: masculine or feminine. This is considered a restrictive concept for the LGBTQ+ community.


Biphobia: Prejudice, fear, hatred of, or discomfort with bisexual people.


Bisexual: A person emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to more than one sex or gender.


Cisgender: A person whose gender identity reflects their sex assigned at birth.


Cissexism: The belief that there are only two genders that are considered the norm, and that everyone’s gender is the same as their sex assigned at birth.

Drag kings and queens

Drag kings and queens: People who perform either masculinity or femininity as a form of art. (It's not about gender identity.)


Gay: A person who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to people of their own gender. It’s commonly used to describe men but some lesbians and queer people may use it to identify themselves. It would be wrong to use it as an umbrella term, because it may wrongly position gay men as representing all LGBTQ+ people.

Gender affirmation surgery

Gender affirmation surgery: The procedures to alter the physical appearance and function of a person’s existing characteristics to a different sex.

Gender attribution

Gender attribution: When someone decides or assumes to know someone else’s gender.


Gender-expansive: When a person’s identity or behavior goes beyond common definitions of gender and gender expression.

Gender expression

Gender expression: A person’s external appearance (think: expression through clothing, haircut, or voice) that are usually associated with being either masculine or feminine. This doesn’t affect or define a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It may or may not conform with society’s gender norms.


Gender-fluid: A person who doesn’t identify with a single, fixed gender, and whose gender identity may shift.

Gender identity

Gender identity: The words used to describe gender (think: male, female, transgender, genderqueer, and more). A person’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender non-conforming

Gender non-conforming: An umbrella term for people who don't conform to the traditional expectations of their gender.

Gender pronouns

Gender pronouns: Try asking ‘What pronouns do you use?’ or ‘Can you remind me what pronouns you use?’ – it might feel awkward but it’s better than making an assumption. Some examples include: She, her, hers; He, him, his; They, them, theirs. Some people don’t use pronouns, and use their names instead.


Genderqueer: The identity of a person who rejects traditional categories of gender, and embraces fluidity of gender and sometimes (though not always) sexual orientation.

Gender transition

Gender transition: The actions someone may take – including the social, psychological, and medical process – of transitioning from one gender to another. It’s complex and likely happens over a long period of time, it’s not a single event.


Heterosexism: Attitudes, bias, and discrimination against non-heterosexual people. It’s a broader term than homophobia – because it doesn’t imply the fear and hatred the latter term suggests. It can be little things, like asking a woman if she has a husband, or asking a man about his girlfriend because of the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm.

Heterosexual privilege

Heterosexual privilege: The societal advantages that heterosexuals get which LGBTQ+ people don't.


Homophobia: Prejudice, fear, hatred of, or discomfort with LGBTQ+ people.


Homosexual: A person emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to members of their own sex. Generally not used anymore, replaced by other terms like lesbian, gay, or queer.


Intersex: People born with sex characteristics (think: genitals or chromosomes) that don’t fit the typical definitions of male or female. Might be visible at birth, or might not be apparent until puberty.


Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to other women.


LGBTQ+: An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. Some people also use the Q to stand for questioning. The plus sign is used to signify everything else on the gender and sexuality spectrum not in this abbreviation.


Non-binary: A person who doesn't identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people might identify as being both a man and a woman, in between, or outside these categories.


Pansexual: A person who can be emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to people regardless of their biological sex or gender identity.

Pride flag

Pride flag: The most widely known LGBTQ+ symbol aka the rainbow flag. It has six colors: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, royal blue for art, and violet for spirit. Fabric for hot pink was not available for mass production so it was dropped. There’s also a version of the flag with brown and black stripes added to be more inclusive of people of color. And while the traditional six-stripe flag is commonly used, there are a lot of other flags that include different colors and stripes to represent other parts of the LGBTQ+ community.


Queer: A term used to describe sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid. It’s also often used interchangeably with LGBTQ+. Historically, it's been considered a derogatory term. But in recent years, the term has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community.


Questioning: A term used to describe people who are figuring out their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.


Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from their sex assigned at birth. Being transgender doesn’t imply a specific sexual orientation. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies through hormones and/or surgery.


Transphobia: Prejudice, fear, hatred of, or discomfort with transgender people.


This list is not exhaustive and these terms are personal (they might mean different things for different people). So before you wave that pride flag, be sure to know these terms and always keep an open mind. To read more, check sources like GLAAD, The Trevor Project, Human Rights Campaign, and the CDC.


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