LGBTQ Virtual Center


Holloway Hall



Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language


Identity Model 



LGBTQI Terminology

A note about these definitions: Each of these definitions has been carefully researched

and closely analyzed from theoretical and practical perspectives for cultural sensitivity,

common usage, and general appropriateness. We have done our best to represent the

most popular uses of the terms listed; however there may be some variation in

definitions depending on location. Please note that each person who uses any or all of

these terms does so in a unique way (especially terms that are used in the context of an

identity label). If you do not understand the context in which a person is using one of

these terms, it is always appropriate to ask. This is especially recommended when

using terms that we have noted that can have a derogatory connotation.


Agendered – Person is internally ungendered.


Ally – Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia,

transphobia, heterosexual and genderstraight privilege in themselves and others;

a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people;

and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social

justice issues.


Androgyne – Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman,

presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.


Asexual – Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a

sexual orientation.


Bicurious – A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex



Bigendered - A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and



Biphobia - The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals, which is

often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can be seen within

the LGBTQI community, as well as in general society.


Bisexual – A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to

males/men and females/women. This attraction does not have to be equally split

between genders and there may be a preference for one gender over others.


Coming Out – May refer to the process by which one accepts one’s own

sexuality, gender identity, or status as an intersexed person (to “come out” to

oneself). May also refer to the process by which one shares one’s sexuality,

gender identity, or intersexed status with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.).

This can be a continual, life-long process for homosexual, bisexual,

transgendered, and intersexed individuals.


Cross-dresser – Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.


Discrimination – Prejudice + power. It occurs when members of a more

powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful

social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including both individual acts

of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges normally accorded to

other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of oppression for the

affected group.


Down Low - See ‘In the Closet.’ Also referred to as ‘D/L.’


Drag - The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically.


Drag King – A person who performs masculinity theatrically.


Drag Queen – A person who performs femininity theatrically.


FTM / F2M - Abbreviation for female-to-male transgender or transsexual person.


Gay – 1. Term used in some cultural settings to represent males who are

attracted to males in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Not all men who

engage in “homosexual behavior” identify as gay, and as such this label should

be used with caution. 2. Term used to refer to the LGBTQI community as a

whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as



Gender Binary – The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or

man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or. (See also

‘Identity Sphere.’)


Gender Cues – What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of

another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape,

facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.


Gender Identity – A person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, or other



Gender Normative – A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender

based expectations of society. (Also referred to as ‘Genderstraight’.)


Gender Variant – A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform

to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex,

genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.).


Genderqueer – A gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male

nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.

Often includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender

binary system.


Hermaphrodite—An out-of-date and offensive term for an intersexed person.

(See ‘Intersexed Person’.)


Heteronormativity—The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that

everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality

and bisexuality.


Heterosexism – Prejudice against individuals and groups who display nonheterosexual

behaviors or identities, combined with the majority power to impose

such prejudice. Usually used to the advantage of the group in power. Any

attitude, action, or practice – backed by institutional power – that subordinates

people because of their sexual orientation.


Heterosexual Privilege –Those benefits derived automatically by being

heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also, the benefits

homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity

or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.


Homophobia – The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or

any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is

this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism.


Homosexual – A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually

attracted to members of the same sex.


Identity Sphere – The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a

linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all expression without

weighting any one expression as better than another.


In the Closet – Refers to a homosexual, bisexual, transperson or intersex

person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or

gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society. An intersex person

may be closeted due to ignorance about their status since standard medical

practice is to “correct,” whenever possible, intersex conditions early in childhood

and to hide the medical history from the patient. There are varying degrees of

being “in the closet”; for example, a person can be out in their social life, but in

the closet at work, or with their family. Also known as ‘Downlow” or ‘D/L.’


Intergender – A person whose gender identity is between genders or a

combination of genders.


Institutional Oppression – Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group

at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education,

religion, economics, etc.


Internalized Oppression – The process by which a member of an oppressed

group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the

oppressed group.


Intersexed Person—Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time

categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of

chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals

differs from one of the two expected patterns.


Lesbian – Term used to describe female-identified people attracted romantically,

erotically, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people. The term lesbian

is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos and as such is

sometimes considered a Eurocentric category that does not necessarily

represent the identities of African-Americans and other non-European ethnic

groups. This being said, individual female-identified people from diverse ethnic

groups, including African-Americans, embrace the term ‘lesbian’ as an identity



LGBTQI – A common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer

and intersexed community.


Male Lesbian—A male-bodied person who identifies as a lesbian. This differs

from a heterosexual male in that a male lesbian is primarily attracted to other

lesbian, bisexual or queer identified people. May sometimes identify as gender

variant, or as a female/woman. (See ‘Lesbian.’)


Metrosexual - First used in 1994 by British journalist Mark Simpson, who coined

the term to refer to an urban, heterosexual male with a strong aesthetic sense

who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.

This term can be perceived as derogatory because it reinforces stereotypes that

all gay men are fashion-conscious and materialistic.


MTF / M2F – Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual



Oppression – The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group

with access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other

and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.


Outing – Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or

intersex status.


Pangendered – A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many

gender expressions.


Pansexual – A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender



Passing – Describes a person's ability to be accepted as their preferred

gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as heterosexual.


Polyamory – Refers to having honest, usually non-possessive, relationships with

multiple partners and can include: open relationships, polyfidelity (which involves

multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to those), and sub-

relationships (which denote distinguishing between a ‘primary" relationship or

relationships and various "secondary" relationships).


Prejudice – A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of

people and its individual members.


Queer 1. An umbrella term which embraces a matrix of sexual preferences,

orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively- heterosexual-and-monogamous

majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex

persons, the radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive

(underworld) explorers. 2. This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation

label instead of ‘bisexual’ as a way of acknowledging that there are more than

two genders to be attracted to, or as a way of stating a non-heterosexual

orientation without having to state who they are attracted to. 3. A reclaimed word

that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned

by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. Queer’

is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades ‘queer’ was used

solely as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980s the term

began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification.

Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men,

lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a sizable

percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold ‘queer’ to be a

hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive.

Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in-group when used

by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their use when one is

not a member of the group.


Same Gender Loving – A term sometimes used by members of the African-

American / Black community to express an alternative sexual orientation without

relying on terms and symbols of European descent. The term emerged in the

early 1990's with the intention of offering Black women who love women and

Black men who love men a voice, a way of identifying and being that resonated

with the uniqueness of Black culture in life. (Sometimes abbreviated as ‘SGL’.)


Sex - A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads,

chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and

hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this

category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies.


Sex Identity – How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between,

beyond, or neither.


Sexual Orientation – The desire for intimate emotional and/or sexual

relationships with people of the same gender/sex, another gender/sex, or

multiple genders/sexes.


Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) – A term used by some medical

professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s “sex”. In

most states, one or multiple surgeries are required to achieve legal recognition of

gender variance.


Sexuality – A person’s exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation, sexual

pleasure, and desire.


Stealth – This term refers to when a person chooses to be secretive in the

public sphere about their gender history, either after transitioning or while

successful passing. (Also referred to as ‘going stealth’ or ‘living in stealth mode’.)


Stereotype – A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire

group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often

negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a

negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad generalizations

that ignore individual realities.


Straight – Another term for heterosexual.


Straight-Acting – A term usually applied to gay men who readily pass as

heterosexual. The term implies that there is a certain way that gay men should

act that is significantly different from heterosexual men. Straight-acting gay men

are often looked down upon in the LGBTQ community for seemingly accessing

heterosexual privilege.


Trans - An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender variant

person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without

having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes

used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.

- The political and social movement to create equality for gender

variant persons.


Transgender – A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that

expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and is not

dependent on gender identity.


Transgendered (Trans) Community – A loose category of people who

transcend gender norms in a wide variety of ways. The central ethic of this

community is unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of freedoms

including gender and sexual identity and orientation.


Transhate – The irrational hatred of those who are gender variant, usually

expressed through violent and often deadly means.


Transition – This term is primarily used to refer to the process a gender variant

person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more

congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in

harmony with their preferred gender expression.


Transman—An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male

transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as

females. Also referred to as ‘transguy(s).’


Transphobia – The irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or the

inability to deal with gender ambiguity.


Transsexual – A person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other

than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals often wish to

transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of



Transvestite – Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the

opposite gender/sex. While the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘transvestite’ have been

used synonymously, they are in fact signify two different groups. The majority of

transvestites are heterosexual males who derive pleasure from dressing in

“women’s clothing”. (The preferred term is ‘cross-dresser,’ but the term

‘transvestite’ is still used in a positive sense in England.)


Transwoman-- An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female

transsexuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as



Two-Spirited – Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have

distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with

mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of male and female

articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term ‘two-spirit’ is

usually considered to specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe

and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.


Citation:  This terminology sheet was created by Eli R. Green ( and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside “ 2003-2004 , with additional input from and many kind people who helped use create and revise these definitions.


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Symbols of Pride


These are some symbols that have been adopted by LGBTQ people and their allies.


The Double Women's Sign


2 Femailes







Also known as "the mirror of Venus," this symbol represents the planet Venus, metal, copper and femininity. It also represents women loving women.



The Double Men's Sign



2 Males







Derived from the astrological symbol of Mars who was the Greek God of War and patron of warriors. The arrow is a phallic symbol. A double man's symbol represents men loving men.



 The Rainbow Flag








The Rainbow Flag was adopted by the LGBT community as its own design. It depicts not the shape of the rainbow but its colors in horizontal stripes. Created in 1978 for

San Francisco's Gay Freedom Celebration by local artist, Gilbert Baker, it was inspired by the "Flag of the Races," which had five stripes-one each for the colors of humankind's skill, flown at the 1960's college demonstrations. Major gay and lesbian parades in New York, Houston, Vancouver and Toronto began to fly the six-stripe Rainbow Flag. It is prominently displayed at most gay and lesbian events. In New York, the flag drapes coffins of people who have died of AIDS, and is frequently displayed on hospital doors. The AIDS ward of a Sidney, Australia hospital flew the flag as a symbol of hope. A gay yacht club in the Netherlands uses a burgee based on the Rainbow Flag. In a few short years, the flag has spread world wide to represent a movement. Its success is not due to any official recognition, although it has been recognized by the International Flagmakers Association as the LGBT Freedom Flag, but to the widespread spontaneous adoption by members of the community it represents.


The Labrys


symbol4.jpg (2763 bytes)









The double-bladed ax comes from myth as the scepter of the goddess Demeter (Artemis). It may have originally been used in battle by female Sythian warriors. The Labrys appears in ancient Cretan art and has become a symbol of lesbianism.


The Lambda









Chosen by the Gay Activist Alliance in 1970 as the symbol of the gay movement, the lambda is the Greek letter "I." A battle flag with the lambda was carried by a regiment of ancient Greek warriors who were accompanied in battle by their young male lovers and noted for their fierceness and willingness to fight to the death. It is also the symbol for justice.



Freedom Rings

Freedom Rings 








Designed by David Spada with the Rainbow Flag in mind, these six colored aluminum rings have come to symbolize independence and tolerance. The rings are frequently displayed or worn as jewelry and maybe found as necklaces, bracelets, rings and key chains.



The Pink Triangle

Pink Triangle








The pink triangle is easily one of the more popular and widely-recognized symbols for the LGBT community. The pink triangle is rooted in World War II times, and reminds us of the tragedies of that era. Although homosexuals were only one of the many groups targeted for extermination by the Nazi regime, it is unfortunately the group that history often excludes. The pink triangle challenges that notion, and defies anyone to deny history.


The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law prohibiting homosexual relations, was revised by Hitler in 1935 to include kissing, embracing, and gay fantasies as well as sexual acts. Convicted offenders - an estimated 25,000 just from 1937 to 1939 - were sent to prison and then later to concentration camps. Their sentence was to be sterilized, and this was most often accomplished by castration. In 1942 Hitler's punishment for homosexuality was extended to death.


Each prisoner in the concentration camps wore a colored inverted triangle to designate their reason for incarceration, and hence the designation also served to form a sort of social hierarchy among the prisoners. A green triangle marked its wearer as a regular criminal; a red triangle denoted a political prisoner. Two yellow triangles overlapping

to form a Star of David designated a Jewish prisoner. The pink triangle was for homosexuals. A yellow Star of David under a superimposed pink triangle marked the lowest of all prisoners - a homosexual Jew.


Stories of the camps depict homosexual prisoners being given the worst tasks and labors. Pink triangle prisoners were also a proportionally large focus of attacks from the guards and even other inmates. Although the total number of the homosexual prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates were an underwhelming 10,000.


Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime range from 50,000 to twice that figure. When the war was finally over, countless many homosexuals remained prisoners in the camps, because Paragraph 175 remained law in West Germany until its repeal in 1969.


In the 1970's, gay liberation groups resurrected the pink triangle as a popular symbol for the gay rights movement. Not only is the symbol easily recognized, but it draws attention to oppression and persecution -then and now. In the 1980's, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. They inverted the symbol, making it point up, to signify an active fight back rather than a passive resignation to fate. Today, for many the pink triangle represents pride, solidarity, and a promise to never allow another Holocaust to happen again.


The Black Triangle








Like the pink triangle, the black triangle is also rooted in Nazi Germany. Although lesbians were not included in the Paragraph 175 prohibition of homosexuality, there is evidence to indicate that the black triangle was used to designate prisoners with anti-social behavior. Considering that the Nazi idea of womanhood focused on children, kitchen, and church, black triangle prisoners may have included lesbians, prostitutes, women who refused to bear children, and women with other "anti-social" traits. As the pink triangle is historically a male symbol, the black triangle has similarly been reclaimed by lesbians and feminists as a symbol of pride and solidarity.


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Sexual Identity Development


The "Cass" Model


STAGE 1: IDENTITY CONFUSION "Could I be gay?" Person is beginning to wonder if "homosexuality" is personally relevant. Denial and confusion is experienced.


Task: Who am I? - Accept, Deny, Reject.


Possible Responses: Will avoid information about lesbians and gays; inhibit behavior; deny homosexuality ("experimenting," "an accident," 'just drunk"). Males: May keep emotional involvement separate from sexual contact; Females: May have deep relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.


Possible Needs: May explore internal positive and negative judgments. Will be permitted to be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May find support in knowing that sexual behavior occurs along a spectrum. May receive permission and encouragement to explore sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity, and social identity).


STAGE 2: IDENTITY COMPARISON: "Maybe this does apply to me." Will accept the possibility that she or he may be gay. Self-alienation becomes isolation.


Task: Deal with social alienation.


Possible Responses: May begin to grieve for losses and the things she or he will give up by embracing their sexual orientation. May compartmentalize their own sexuality. Accepts lesbian, gay definition of behavior but maintains "heterosexual" identity of self. Tells oneself, "It's only temporary;" I'm just in love with this particular woman/man," etc.


Possible Needs: Will be very important that the person develops own definitions. Will need information about sexual identity, lesbian, gay community resources, encouragement to talk about loss of heterosexual life expectations. May be permitted to keep some "heterosexual" identity (it is not an all or none issue).


STAGE 3: IDENTITY TOLERANCE: "I'm not the only one." Accepts the probability of being homosexual and recognizes sexual, social, emotional needs that go with being lesbian and gay. Increased commitment to being lesbian or gay.


Task: Decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.


Possible Responses: Beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue. Recognition that being lesbian or gay does not preclude other options. Accentuates difference between self and heterosexuals. Seeks out lesbian and gay culture (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture, stops growth). May try out variety of stereotypical roles.


Possible Needs: Be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as external heterosexism. Receive support in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is particularly important for the person to know community resources.


STAGE 4: IDENTITY ACCEPTANCE: "I will be okay." Accepts, rather than tolerates, gay or lesbian self-image. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture.


Task: Deal with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society's norm, attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of self.


Possible Responses: Accepts gay or lesbian self identification. May compartmentalize "gay life." Maintains less and less contact with heterosexual community. Attempts to "fit in" and "not make waves" within the gay and lesbian community. Begins some selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women that are identified as "gay." More realistic evaluation of situation.


Possible Needs: Continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life expectations. Continue exploring internalized "homophobia" (learned shame for heterosexist society). Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom he or she self discloses.



STAGE 5: IDENTITY PRIDE: "I've got to let people know who I am!" Immerses self in gay and lesbian culture. Less and less involvement with heterosexual community. Us-them quality to political/social viewpoint.


Task: Deal with incongruent views of heterosexuals.


Possible Responses: Splits world into "gay" (good) and "straight" (bad). Experiences

disclosure crises with heterosexuals as he or she is less willing to "blend in." Identifies gay culture as sole source of support; all gay friends, business connections, social connections.


Possible Needs: Receive support for exploring anger issues. Find support for exploring issues of heterosexism. Develop skills for coping with reactions and responses to disclosure of sexual identity. Resist being defensive!


STAGE 6: IDENTITY SYNTHESIS: Develops holistic view of self. Defines self in a more complete fashion, not just in terms of sexual orientation.


Task: Integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is on

aspect of self.


Possible Responses: Continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity. Allows trust of others to increase and build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of "self." Feels all right to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.


Citation: From: Cass, V. Homosexual Identity Development, 1979.


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