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  Working out what to search if you’re not sure what you’re looking for can be a bit overwhelming. Some of the words and letters are confusing, so here is a glossary to help you identify what you might want to search for:

Glossary of terms

Sexual orientation

Sexual Orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction or non-attraction to other people. Sexual orientation can be fluid and people use a variety of labels to describe their sexual orientation (5).

Gender identity

Gender identity is a person's concept of their identity as a man, woman, a blend of both or neither. Gender relates to how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. A person's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth (3).


Sex is a medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because it is usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies. (1)


Lesbian is a term used to refer to women-identified people who are attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other women-identified people. Not all women who have relationships with other women identify as lesbian, they may use other words for their identity such as gay, bisexual, queer etc (2).


Gay is a term used to describe people who are attracted to other people of the same gender. Gay is often used to refer specifically to men who are attracted to other men in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Not all men who have relationships or sex with other men identify as gay, and as such this label should be used with caution if you do not know how a person identifies (1, 2).

N.B: Avoid using the term "homosexuals" - this is an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people (11).

Bisexual / Bi

Bisexuality is a term used to describe attraction to people of more than one gender. A bisexual person is romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of their own gender and other genders (e.g. a person who is attracted to men and women). Bisexuality is a diverse sexual orientation because people within the bi+ community define it in various ways. Some identify as bisexual, while others use pansexual, queer, fluid, or no label at all to describe their attractions to more than one gender (9, 19).


Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms - including transgender, transgender woman, transgender man, gender diverse, non-binary, genderqueer etc. Some of these terms are defined further below. Transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures - some transgender people may take hormones or have surgery to affirm their gender identity but many do not or cannot for a variety of reasons (11).


Intersex people are born with physical sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and social norms for “female” or “male” bodies (7). Intersex people can be heterosexual or not, and cisgender (identify with sex assigned at birth) or not (6). Because their bodies are seen as different, intersex children and adults are often stigmatized and can be subjected to multiple human rights violations, including violations of their rights to health and physical integrity, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, and to equality and non- discrimination (7).


Queer is a term that can be used as an umbrella term for diverse genders or sexualities. Some people use queer to describe their own gender and/or sexuality if other terms do not fit. For some people, especially older LGBTIQ people, ‘queer’ can have negative connotations, because in the past it was used as a derogatory term. The term queer should only be used to refer to people who are comfortable with and use this term for themselves. (19)


Asexuality is a lack of sexual desire or attraction. Asexual people can have a range of attitudes towards sex and experiences of sex. An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way (8, 12).


Pansexual is a term used to describe people who have romantic, sexual or affectional desire for people of all/any genders and sexes (5, 19).


Brotherboy is a term used by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to describe transgender masculine people. Brotherboy typically refers to masculine spirit people who may be assigned female at birth (13). 


Sistergirl is a term used by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to describe trangender feminine people. Sistergirl typically refers to feminine spirit people who may be assigned male at birth (13).


Non-binary is an umbrella term people use to describe gender that doesn’t fit squarely into male or female. This can include people who feel their gender is a mix of both, changes often, is something totally separate, or have no strong sense of a gender at all. (20)


Femme is a term used to describe someone who identifies with a version of femininity, or a gender identity related to their idea of what it means to be feminine or a woman. This is not necessarily based on popular notions of “femininity”.


Masc/masculine is a term used to describe someone who identifies with a version of masculinity, or a gender identity related to their idea of what it means to be masculine or a man. This is not necessarily based on popular notions of “masculinity”.

Cis Gender

Cisgender refers to a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, if you were told you were “male” at birth (based on sex characteristics) and grow up to identify and understand yourself to be a man, you are cisgender (2). 

Gender expression

Gender expression is how someone expresses their gender: as a woman, man, neither, or other. Gender expression is often based on what society tells us is “normal” or “right” for people of different genders to do, how they feel, how they act, what they wear. This is influenced by where we live, the era, cultural specificities, trends, politics.


Pronouns are the words used to refer to someone in the third person - for example, she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/their/theirs. In English and some other languages, pronouns have been tied to gender and are a common site of misgendering (attributing a gender to someone that is incorrect.) It is important to use the pronouns that a person uses for themselves to show respect for their gender identity. (5, 20).


Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities, including the expression of hate for people with disabilities, denial of accessibility, rejection of disabled applicants for housing and jobs. Ableism also includes institutionalised discrimination in the form of benefits systems designed to keep people with disabilities in poverty, etc. LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities may experience ableism as well as discrimination based on their sexuality/gender. The unique needs and experiences of LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities need to be taken into account by disability services, LGBTIQA+ services and the broader communities. (14)


Biphobia is intolerance, bias or prejudice against people who are bisexual. Biphobia can involve a wide range of behaviours including violent and hateful acts and speech about bisexual people. Biphobia can also manifest as ‘bisexual erasure’ - the assumption that bisexuality is not a ‘real’ sexual orientation and the erasure of bisexual people’s unique experiences and needs. (15)


Homophobia is intolerance, bias or prejudice against people who are or are perceived to not be heterosexual. Homophobia can involve a wide range of behaviours by individuals and groups including violent and hateful acts and speech. Homophobia can also be structural and embedded in institutions - for example, laws that discriminate against same sex couples. (11,17)


Racism is a set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that involve prejudice, discrimination or hatred directed at someone because of their colour, ethnicity or national origin. Racism can involve violent and hateful acts and speech, as well as institutional discrimination and bias towards people based on their ethnicity. LGBTIQA+ people of colour may experience racism as well as discrimination based on their sexuality/gender. The diversity of LGBTIQA+ communities must be recognised and respected, and LGBTIQA+ people of colour meaningfully included in all community events, spaces and services. (18)


Transphobia is intolerance, bias, or prejudice against people who are or are perceived to be transgender or gender non-conforming. Transphobia can involve a wide range of behaviours including violent and hateful acts and speech. Transphobia can also be structural and embedded in institutions - for example, laws that discriminate against transgender people (11, 17)


This glossary was complied using information from the following sources. Please contact Rainbow Directory SA if you have any suggestions. 

(1) Amnesty International USA: https://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/toolkit_LGBTglossary.pdf

(2) The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/trvr_support_center/glossary/

(3) Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms

(4) Stonewall: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/glossary-terms

(5) UC Davis - LGBTIQA Resource Centre: https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/glossary

(6) Intersex Human Rights Australia: https://ihra.org.au/18106/what-is-intersex/

(7) Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Fact Sheet: Intersex): https://www.unfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/UNFE-Intersex.pdf

(8) Minus 18 (what does it mean to be asexual): https://www.minus18.org.au/index.php/articles/item/29-what-does-it-mean-to-be-asexual

(8) Minus 18 (What does it mean to be Queer): https://www.minus18.org.au/index.php/articles/item/31-what-does-queer-mean-anyway

(9) Bisexual Resource Centre: https://biresource.org/resources/youth/what-is-bisexuality/

(10) Reachout: https://au.reachout.com/articles/the-difference-between-gender-sex-and-sexuality

(11) GLAAD Media Reference Guide: https://www.glaad.org/reference/lgbtq

(12) The Asexual Visibility & Education Network: https://www.asexuality.org/?q=overview.html

(13)Minus18 (What is the difference between Gay & Queer): https://www.minus18.org.au/index.php/articles/item/40-the-queer-community-has-heaps-of-new-words-here-s-what-they-mean?

(14) What is Ableism? Five things about Ableism you should know: https://disabledfeminists.com/2010/11/19/what-is-ableism-five-things-about-ableism-you-should-know/

(15) Bisexual Invisibility


(16) Intersex Human Rights Australia: https://ihra.org.au/discrimination/

(17) Minus 18 - Your Guide to Words and Definitions in the LGBTQIA+ Commmunity https://www.minus18.org.au/articles/your-guide-to-words-and-definitions-in-the-lgbtqia+-community

(18) Australian Human Rights Commission - What Is Racism? https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/race-discrimination/what-racism

(19) Victorian Government, LGBTIQ Inclusive Language Guidehttps://www.vic.gov.au/inclusive-language-guide

(20) Minus 18 - Trans 101 Guide: https://www.trans101.org.au/