LGBT+ Safe Space Terms and Definitions

Terms and Definitions

The LGBT+ community culture evolves through language, symbols and landmark events. The list below is intended to be a guide and does not guarantee that every entry will be universally embraced by every member of this community. Like acceptable terms referring to race, sex, national origin, Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals status or low-income students now sometimes termed “Pell-eligible,” this list is updated frequently and has explanations related to context.

Anyone who perceives that certain language has concerned an individual may ask how they can better communicate. One example: “I feel the term ‘----’ has made you uncomfortable – what do you think I could have used instead?”


  • LGBT+: A more inclusive term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, asexual, pansexual and other individuals’ affectional orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
  • (General) Sex assigned at birth: The classification of an individual as having female, male and/or intersex characteristics. Infants usually are assigned the sex of male or female at birth based on the appearance of their external anatomy. An individual’s sex is a combination of physical characteristics, including chromosomes, reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics.
  • (General) Sexual Orientation: An individual’s romantic, emotional and/or physical feelings for, or attraction to, individual(s) based on sex and/or gender.

Sex of an Individual - Specifics

  • Female: An individual with XX chromosomes.
  • Male: An individual with XY chromosomes.
  • Intersex: An umbrella term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive anatomy that is uncharacteristic of the medical definitions of female or male.

Sexual Orientation of an Individual

  • Lesbian: A person who is female-identified and who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other females.
  • Gay: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of the same gender. “Gay” often refers to a male-identified person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other males. “Gay” generally is not preferred as an umbrella term; the term “LGBT+” is more accurate and inclusive.
  • Bisexual: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of two genders.
  • Trans* status is not a sexual orientation. It is related to gender identity and expression. Its definition can be found below.
  • Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction, but may experience other forms of attraction such as intellectual or emotional.
  • Heterosexual: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of a different sex and/or gender. Currently, that individual may be referred to as “straight,” although that term is less than sensitive when viewed in light of its common antonyms, crooked or distorted.
  • Pansexual: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some people, regardless of their gender identity.
  • Queer: An umbrella term used to describe a sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to dominant societal norms. Currently, it may be considered a neutral or even a positive term among many LGBT+ community members. Be aware that historically, “queer” was used as a slur. The age of the individual hearing the term may contribute to that perception.


  • Ally: A member of the majority or dominant group who works to end oppression. They usually recognize their own privilege or influence and work to advocate for an oppressed community.
  • Community or the community: A loosely-defined grouping of LGBT+ individuals and LGBT+ organizations, united by a common culture and social movement. Example: “They’re part of the community,” when appropriate to reference an individual known to make that membership public. If there is any doubt, such personal information should not be shared.
  • Family: A colloquial term used to identify other LGBT+ community members. Example: “They’re part of the family,” when appropriate to reference an individual known to make that membership public. If there is any doubt, such personal information should not be shared.

Gender Identity

  • Gender: The socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for individuals based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Gender Identity: An individual’s deeply-felt internal, individual experience of gender. This may correspond with the sex assigned at birth or the gender attributed to them by society. It includes the personal sense of the body. This differs from gender expression.
  • Gender Expression: The external manifestation of one’s gender identity expressed through one’s name, pronouns, behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or bodily characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine. What is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Trans* people may seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender: An individual whose gender identity, gender expression and sex assigned at birth align.
  • Gender Dysphoria: An individual’s discomfort with the sex assigned at birth. This term replaced “gender identity disorder.” It remains a topic for discussion, since it classifies trans* individuals with a medical condition.
  • Gender-fluid/Genderqueer/Third Gender/Non-binary: Terms used to describe people whose gender identity falls outside the male and female binary. These terms can also describe persons who identify as both male and female (bigender), don’t identify with any gender (agender) or identify as a mix of different genders (e.g., male, female, and agender on different days).
  • Trans* (Transgender): A person whose gender identity and/or expression are not aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans* is used as an umbrella term encompassing many types of identities related to gender nonconformity. Current usage considered most inclusive: Trans* when written, pronounced trans, to encompass transgender, non-binary gender, and gender-fluid individuals.
  • Preferred Gender Pronouns: The pronouns that correctly identify an individual. If you are unsure of the correct pronoun, use their name a second time or ask, “What are your pronouns?” Try not to assume based on your perception. If an individual asks for a different set of pronouns, indicate understanding.
  • Pronouns emerging in language:
    • He/She/They/Ze or Zie (pronounced Zee)
    • Him/Her/Them/Zem or Zim (pronounced Zem and Zim)
    • His/Her/Their/Zir or Hir (pronounced Zeer and Heer)
    • Mr./Ms./Mx. (Pronounced Mix)
    • Latinx, replacing “Members of the Latino community.”
    • “They” as the singular pronoun. It is especially used by individuals identifying as non-binary. Example: “Chris completed their experiment with the best results.” It is considered correct to be courteous and respect their request, regardless of grammar usage related to subject-verb agreement.

Personal Development

  • Coming out: The ongoing process that an LGBT+ individual goes through, to recognize personal identities pertaining to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, and to be open about them with others. Current usage of the term recognizes that individuals come out to someone or some communities at different times. Discussion of this personal process should be limited to appropriate settings.
  • Out: A person who self-identifies as LGBT+ in their personal or professional life.
  • Outed/Public Outing: Describes an individual’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identity being made public against their will or without their knowledge.
  • Questioning: Individuals who are uncertain of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. This term often represents the Q in LGBTQ, although some use the Q for queer. The College chose LGBT+ for usual reference, to recognize all members of the community.


  • Heteronormative: Relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal sexual orientation.
  • Heterosexism: A system of oppression that benefits heterosexuals at the expense of LGBT+ individuals.
  • Homophobia, Biphobia or Transphobia: Fear or hatred of LGBT+ individuals. May manifest in exclusion, discrimination or violence.
  • Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: Any act of violence targeting individuals based on their sex and/or gender. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering; the threats of such acts; coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

Terms to Avoid, with possible substitutions:

Terms to AvoidPossible Substitutions
Cross-dresser, transvestiteExpresses gender other than sex assigned at birth
Gay (used as a noun: a gay, the gay)No appropriate substitution
GaydarNo appropriate substitution
He/she (pronounced hee-shee);
Trans* individual
HomosexualGay male
In the closet; passingNo appropriate substitution
Out of the closetOut
Lifestyle/lifestyle choiceNo appropriate substitution
Sex changeGender reassignment surgery
Sexual preferenceSexual orientation
That's so gayNo appropriate substitution

Equity and Diversity/Title IX, 8.1.19, 4.10.20


Barbara Coleman-Foster
Associate Vice President, Equity and Diversity/Title IX Coordinator