Creating Dialogue by Learning LGBTQ Identity Language

Transgender Graphic

While society has come a long way in terms of accepting LGBTQ communities, including major legal victories like marriage equality, we still have a ways to go.

Lost in a recent YouTube binge, I found the YouTube-produced #proudtobe video that features LGBTQ vloggers. YouTube intended the video to embrace and support people celebrating who they are — especially transgender individuals — but unfortunately, the video has become one of the most disliked videos in YouTube’s history.

The negative video response — both through hateful comments and the “dislike” option — is surprising. This isn’t the first time YouTube has created a LGBTQ ally video like this, but previous videos received a very different response from viewers. In 2013, YouTube put out a similar video primarily featuring gay and lesbian people. It was much more positively received, and did not experience nearly the same level of negative attention as the latest video.

In response to the negative comments and due to its ban on “hate speech,” YouTube decided to disable comments on the #proudtobe video. Considering that 41 percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the general public, YouTube’s reaction is understandable. But is this only a short-term solution?

In this case, perhaps language was a barrier — people fearing words and concepts that they didn’t understand. But disabling comments won’t create more inclusive dialogue about LGBTQ issues and challenges, or prevent future negative responses to LGBTQ-supporting content. To spread diversity and inclusion for the LGBTQ community, we must bridge the understanding divide by educating the public about LGBTQ identity language.

Through partnerships with LGBTQ equity and advocacy organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, YouTube and organizations facing similar difficult conversations can share and expand understanding among viewers about LGBTQ inclusiveness.

Although there is much work to be done, the tremendous amount of support following the tragedy in Orlando confirms that there is understanding and inclusion in the world: Acceptance is in our future. As communicators, understanding the transgender community — and the broader LGBTQ community — begins with defining and communicating the language around LGBTQ identities.

To build our understanding of LGBTQ terms and phrases, take a few minutes to review the following glossary of terms from the Human Rights Campaign. The organization developed it to “give people the words and meanings to help make conversations easier and more comfortable.”

Ally | A person who is not LGBTQ but shows support for LGBTQ people and promotes equality in a variety of ways.

Androgynous | Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine.

Asexual | The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people.

Biphobia | Prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people.

Bisexual | 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.

Cisgender | A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Closeted | Describes an LGBTQ person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Coming out | The process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others.

Gay | A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender.

Gender dysphoria | Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term — which replaces Gender Identity Disorder — “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”

Gender-expansive | Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.

Gender expression | External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender identity | One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither — how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender non-conforming | A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

Genderqueer | Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as “genderqueer” may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside these categories.

Gender transition | The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.

Homophobia | The fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are attracted to members of the same sex.

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

LGBTQ | An acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.”

Living openly | A state in which LGBTQ people are comfortably out about their sexual orientation or gender identity — where and when it feels appropriate to them.

Outing | Exposing someone’s lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity to others without their permission. Outing someone can have serious repercussions on employment, economic stability, personal safety or religious or family situations.

Queer | A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with “LGBTQ.”

Questioning | A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Same-gender loving | A term some prefer to use instead of lesbian, gay or bisexual to express attraction to and love of people of the same gender.

Sexual orientation | An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.

Transgender | An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Transphobia | The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.