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Creating Safe Space for GLBTQ Youth: A Toolkit

The definitions offered here may be useful for navigating the often-confusing world of sexual orientation and gender identity. Please remember, however, not to impose any of these words as labels upon GLBTQ youth. Ask youth how they self-identify and/or about language that makes them feel safe. If they choose to avoid self-identifying terms, honor their decision. This will clearly indicate youth's right to be whatever they perceive themselves to be and to be safe. In other words, while these expressions can be useful in developing an understanding of the diversity of the GLBTQ community, they are for the individual to use in self-identification and not for others to use as labels.

  • Affirm: To acknowledge or assert as fact; here, to assert one's own sexual orientation or gender identity strongly and publicly or to openly acknowledge and publicly assert the rights and dignity of GLBTQ people
  • Ally: A person (usually a heterosexual individual) or organization that actively helps another with a specific issue; here, one who openly supports and affirms the rights and dignity of GLBTQ people
  • Androgyny: Exhibiting the identity and/or appearance of both male and female, as neither male nor female, or as between male and female; exhibiting behaviors of either or both traditional genders; a descriptive term that many in the GLBTQ community find offensive; see also third gender and also Two-Spirit
     
  • Bi: Slang term for people with a bisexual orientation and who self-identify as bisexual
  • Bi-phobia: Fear or intolerance toward bisexuality, either from straight people or institutions or from within the gay and lesbian community
  • Bias: Prejudice, usually favoring one group or state over another; here, favoring one sexual orientation and/or the gender identity other any other
  • Biological sex: The biological state of having: 1) female or male genitalia (vulva, labia, clitoris, and vagina for females; penis and testicles for males); 2) female or male chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); and 3) female or male hormones (estrogen and progesterone for females; testosterone for males); perhaps one in 2,000 babies is born with the biological characteristics of both sexes or of neither sex entirely (see intersex); see also gender and gender identity which are different than biological sex
  • Bisexuality: Feeling romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to both males and females; a normal sexual orientation of no known cause; see also heterosexuality and homosexuality
  • Bullying: Physically, mentally, and/or emotionally intimidating and/or harming an individual or members of a group; here, intimidating or harming individuals whose sexual orientation or gender identity is somehow threatening to the bully
  • Butch: Slang term for individuals who exhibit characteristics or behaviors traditionally considered as masculine; sometimes derogatory; also sometimes used by lesbian women or gay men to self-identify with varying notions of gender
     
  • Camp: Deliberately affected or exaggerated style, sometimes for humorous effect
  • Closeted: The intentional concealment of an individual's own sexual orientation or gender identity, often due to fear of discrimination and/or violence; see also in the closet
  • Coming out: From 'coming out of the closet,' the process of becoming aware of and open about one's sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Crossdressers: Preferred term for people who usually self-identify with their biological sex and gender but who sometimes wear the clothing, jewelry, etc., of the opposite gender to fulfill emotional needs
     
  • Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of an individual or groups of people; here unfair treatment on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Drag queen/drag king: Someone who dresses and acts like the opposite gender for entertainment purposes; usually does not self-identify as transgender
  • Dyke: A derogatory word for a lesbian and/or for any woman who projects the role, appearance, attitudes, and/or behaviors that a culture traditionally assigns to males; also reclaimed by some to identify with varying notions of gender
     
  • Equality: The state of being equal in regard to status, rights, opportunities, and treatment
  • Equity: The state of being fair and impartial; here, fairness in opportunities and treatment under the law
     
  • Faggot: A derogatory word for a gay male and/or for any man who projects the role, appearance, attitudes, and/or behaviors that a culture traditionally assigns to females; also reclaimed by some men to identify with varying notions of gender
  • Fairness: Quality of being fair-minded, impartial, and just
  • Female-to-male (FTM): A person born or assigned at birth as biologically female, who identifies as a male and who takes the sex, gender, and identity of a male through dress, mannerisms, behavior, hormone therapy, and/or surgery
  • Feminine: A term used to describe the socially constructed and culturally specific gender behaviors expected of females; see also masculine
  • Femme: A slang term for an individual who projects a traditionally feminine gender role; sometimes, but not always, derogatory; also used by some to self-identify regarding gender

  • Gay: Men who feel romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to other men; a term used to proclaim self-acceptance and self-affirmation
  • Gay-bashing (sometimes simply 'bashing'): A physical or verbal attack directed at GLBTQ people, motivated by hatred for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or sexual behavior
  • Gay-straight alliance (GSA): Formal organization of GLBTQ and straight people in support of the dignity and rights of GLBTQ people, usually in the context of and to create change within educational institutions and environments
  • Gender: Social and cultural expression of sex; notbiological sex
  • Gender conformity: Acting within the culturally expected gender role for people of one's biological sex
  • Gender dysphoria: A medical term for unhappiness or discomfort with the gender role assigned by one's culture to one's biological sex; a term disliked by many transgender people as implying that there is something wrong with them; may or may not coincide with sexual dysphoria
  • Gender expression: The ways in which an individual communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, and/or the emphasis or de-emphasis of bodily characteristics; not an indication of sexual orientation; behaviors and traits used publicly to express gender identity—as masculine or feminine or something else; also called gender presentation
  • Gender fluidity: The belief that social constructions of gender identity and gender roles lie along a spectrum and cannot be limited to two genders; a feeling that one's gender varies from societal notions of two genders
  • Gender identity: An individual's innermost sense of self as male or female, as lying somewhere between these two genders, or as lying somewhere outside gender lines altogether
  • Gender neutral: Anything (such as clothing, styles, activities, or spaces) that a society or culture considers appropriate for anyone, irrespective of gender; anything that carries with it no particular gender associations
  • Gender presentation: The ways in which an individual communicates one's own gender identity to others, through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, and/or the emphasis or de-emphasis of bodily characteristics; not an indication of sexual orientation; behaviors and traits used publicly to express one's gender—as masculine or feminine or something else; also called gender expression
  • Gender role: Culturally or socially determined sets of attitudes and behaviors that are expected of an individual based on her/his biological sex
  • Genderqueer (also gender queer): People who reject the normative societal construct of gender and view their own identity as unrelated to such gender constructs
  • Genetic sex: Defined by the 23 rd chromosomal pair, coded XX for female and XY for male, although other chromosomal code sets also exist
  • GLBTQ: standard acronym for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning people; variations exist, such as including an I for intersex and a second Q for queer
  • Gonads: Glands (ovaries for females and testes for males) that produce gametes
     
  • Hatred: Intense dislike or ill will, sometimes unconscious, often irrational, and occasionally expressed through violence; a self-destructive and corrosive emotion
  • Heterophobia: A fear or distrust of heterosexual people and of anything associated with heterosexuality, often based on negative life experiences
  • Heterosexism: The assumption that everyone is heterosexual (or should be) and that heterosexuality is the only 'normal,' right, and moral way to be and that, therefore, anyone of a different sexual orientation is 'abnormal,' wrong, and immoral
  • Heterosexuality: Feeling romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to the opposite sex; a normal sexual orientation of no known cause; see also straight, bisexuality and homosexuality
  • Homophobia: Fear or intolerance of GLBT people, a feeling that is not limited to particular cultures or to straight people
  • Homosexuality: Feeling romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to members of the same sex; a normal sexual orientation of no known cause; see also bisexuality and heterosexuality as well as gay and lesbian
     
  • Identity: What, how and who one perceives oneself to be; a multi-faceted self-concept that evolves throughout life
  • In the closet: The intentional concealment of an individual's own gender identity or sexual orientation, usually due to fear of discrimination and/or violence; can cause isolation and psychological pain; see also closeted
  • Intersex: Having some degree of ambiguity in regard to primary sex characteristics (genitalia) or being born with predominantly male or female genitalia that medical professionals deem to be physiologically 'incorrect,' usually addressed through medically unnecessary surgery during infancy; a condition that may apply to about one in 2,000 infants; sometimes offensively called 'hermaphroditic'
  • Intervention: Action to change a situation for the better; a deliberate, organized effort to improve the circumstances of one or more individuals by altering the environment, policies, and/or circumstances facing or affecting those individuals
  • Isolation: The state of being or feeling alone and apart from, or unable to connect with others; a cause of deep emotional distress for any person
     
  • Justice: Fair, equal, and reasonable treatment without regard to a person's color, sex, gender, age, health, wealth or poverty, background, race/ethnicity, condition, sexual orientation, or gender identity; fair and equal treatment under the law and in all societal interactions
     
  • Lesbian: A woman who feels romantically, emotionally, and sexually attracted to other women; a descriptive and socially acceptable label that homosexual women often prefer because it offers an identity separate from that of homosexual men; a term originating from Lesbos, an Aegean island and the home of the Greek poet Sappho, a woman who loved women
  • Lifestyle: The way individuals live their lives, such as an urban or a rural lifestyle, an artistic lifestyle, an entrepreneurial lifestyle, a hedonistic lifestyle; not appropriately used to denote sexual orientation (just as there is no heterosexual lifestyle, there is no homosexual or gay lifestyle either, ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', '); the phrase 'homosexual lifestyle' is often used by anti-gay groups to imply that sexual orientation is a matter of choice rather than of identity
     
  • Male-to-female (MTF): A person born or assigned at birth as biologically male, who self-identifies as female and who takes the sex, gender, and identity of a female through dress, mannerisms, behaviors, hormone therapy, and/or surgery
  • Masculine: A term used to describe the socially constructed and culturally specific gender behaviors expected of males; see also feminine
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM): A term used to denote men who engage in sexual behavior with other men; includes men who self-identify as heterosexual as well as those who self-identify as gay and bisexual (please note that in online politics, MSM is an acronym for mainstream media)
     
  • Oppression: Prolonged cruel or unjust treatment, sometimes unconscious, sometimes covert; constant state of denying to others fair and equal treatment and fair and equal opportunities
  • Out: Openly acknowledging one's sexual orientation or gender identity; may be partial (that is, out to some people and in the closet to others)
  • Outed: When someone else accidentally or deliberately discloses another's sexual orientation or gender identity, usually without permission
  • Out of the closet: The same as being out
     
  • Pansexual: A term of choice for people who do not self-identify as bisexual, finding themselves attracted to people across a spectrum of genders
  • Passing: A term for those who successfully assume a gender role and gender expression different than the one to which they were born or assigned at birth; also may refer to closeted gay, lesbian, or bisexual people passing as straight (please note that in some cultures, passing refers to successfully assuming a different racial/ethnic or cultural identity)
  • Power: Having the ability to do something or to act in a particular way; here, the freedom and ability to acknowledge openly one's sexual orientation or gender identity without fear of oppression, discrimination, injustice, violence, or abuse
  • Prejudice: Bias; an attitude that favors one person or group over another; here, favoring: one sexual orientation and/or gender identity over any other; an attitude that usually leads to discrimination
  • Pride: National, citywide, and neighborhood local events and programs, usually during the month of June (see Stonewall) in celebration of the ongoing fight for equality for GLBTQ people
  • Primary sex characteristics: Physical characteristics present at birth and that are used by those around an infant to determine its biological sex, including penis and scrotum to identify the infant as male or vulva, vagina, clitoris, and labia to identify the infant as female
  • Privilege: Special rights, advantages, or immunity granted to, or assumed by, certain groups and considered by them as their right; for example in the United States, privilege accrues mostly to whites, to heterosexual people, and most of all, to white, heterosexual males.
     
  • Queer: Formerly an exclusively derogatory term for all GLBT people; now proudly used by some as an umbrella term for the entire GLBTQ community; also used by those who see their own gender identity, sexual identity, and/or sexual orientation as not fitting the widely recognized pattern of straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning
  • Questioning: Being unsure of one's sexual orientation and/or gender identity; feeling uncomfortable with or unwilling or unable to self-categorize within traditional labels such as gay, straight, male, female, etc.
     
  • Respect: A feeling of regard for the rights, dignity, feelings, wishes, and abilities of others
     
  • Safe space: A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person's self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others
  • Safety: Freedom from the fear or threat of harm (physical, emotional, or mental) and from danger, risk, or injury
  • Same gender loving: A term created by the African American GLBTQ community and used by some people of color who see 'gay' and 'lesbian' as terms of the white gay and lesbian community
  • Secondary sex characteristics: Those physical characteristics that are not present at birth and that develop during puberty as a result of hormones released by the gonads and the adrenal gland, including facial and chest hair (males), breasts (females), and pubic hair (everyone)
  • Sex (biological sex): A classification based on reproductive physiology and identified in four main ways, including: 1) primary sex characteristics (vulva, labia, clitoris, and vagina for females; penis and scrotum for males); 2) genetic sex or chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); 3) gonads (ovaries for females; testes for males); and 4) secondary sex characteristics (see above; a continuum with most individuals concentrated near the ends
  • Sexism: Discrimination and unfairness based on biological sex or gender and usually perpetrated against females
  • Sexual dysphoria: A medical term for unhappiness or discomfort with the biological sex to which one was born or assigned at birth; describing a disconnect between one's internal sense of gender identity and one's outwardly apparent biologic sex; a term disliked by many transgender people as implying that there is something wrong with them; may or may not coincide with gender dysphoria
  • Sexual minority: An umbrella term for people whose sexuality is expressed in less common ways; may include people who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two-Spirit, third gender, and so on
  • Sexual orientation: A feeling of attraction to others, based on biological sex and gender expression, over which individuals have no choice and different from sexual behavior; romantic, sexual, and emotional attraction to others, categorized by the sex of the person to whom one is attracted—such as: heterosexual (attracted to the opposite sex); homosexual (attracted to the same sex); or bisexual (attracted to individuals irrespective of their sex)
  • Sexual prejudice: Discrimination and unfairness based on biological sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity; see also sexism
  • Sexual reassignment surgery: Surgical procedures that modify one's primary and/or secondary sex characteristics; formerly called a "sex change operation," a phrase now considered by many to be offensive
  • Social justice: Equal treatment and equality of social and economic opportunity, irrespective of one's sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, race/ethnicity, biological sex, national origin, age, or health status; a concept that, "Each person possesses an inviolability, founded on justice, that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason, justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others." (John Rawls)
  • Stonewall: Referring to riots at the Stonewall Bar in New York City on June 27, 1967; often cited as the birth of the modern GLBT civil rights movement
  • Straight: Slang term for a person with heterosexual orientation
     
  • Third gender: A category for those who do not self-identify as either masculine or feminine and who believe that they belong to an alternative gender
  • Trannie: Slang for transgender people; considered offensive by most
  • Trans: Slang for transgender people
  • Transgender: An umbrella term for all who feel that they are outside the boundaries of biological sex and culturally determined gender expression; may include transsexuals, crossdressers, Two-Spirit people, drag performers, etc, and people who do not identify with their biological sex
  • Transition: The period when one is intentionally changing from living as one sex or gender to a different conception of sex or gender; a multi-step, complicated process that may or may not include sexual reassignment surgery and/or hormonal supplements to alter one's body
  • Transman: Slang for a female-to-male transsexual person
  • Transphobia: Unreasoning hatred and suspicion or fear of anyone whose gender identity and gender expression does not conform to society's expectations for one of her/his biological sex
  • Transsexual: An individual who does not self-identify with his/her biological sex; one who identifies physically, psychologically, and emotionally as of a different sex from that one was born or assigned at birth; may choose to alter the body to reconcile gender identity and biological sex or physical appearance; may consider one's self as non-operative (meaning does not intend to change the primary sex characteristics); pre-operative (meaning takes hormones to change the body's appearance and may or may not eventually have sexual reassignment surgery); and post-operative (meaning has had sexual reassignment survey)
  • Transvestite: Former term, now considered offensive by many, for people who usually self-identify with their biological sex and gender but who sometimes wear the clothing, jewelry, etc., of the opposite gender to fulfill emotional needs; the preferred term is crossdresser
  • Transwoman: Slang for a male-to-female transsexual person
  • Two-Spirit: A term whose definition varies across Native American cultures, but which generally means a person born with one biological sex and fulfilling at least some of the gender roles assigned to both sexes; often considered part male and part female or wholly male and wholly female; often revered as natural peace makers as well as healers and shamans
 
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