LGBTQIA+ - What do all the letters stand for?

Beatrice Howard on 12 January 2018
LGBTQIA+ written in rainbow letters across someone's knuckles

Sometimes it can seem overwhelming learning about the various members of the alphabet mafia and the breadth of identities possible. Let's break some of it down.

One of the most incredible things about modern society is that it’s becoming ever more inclusive and supportive of self-expression. There’s still a long way to go, but education, increased diversity, and greater tolerance will move us closer to a more egalitarian society.

Many universities are actively trying to be more inclusive, and encourage their students to do the same, but it’s totally understandable if some of the terminologies are unfamiliar to you. The list of orientations, sexualities, and identities is pretty vast, and some people feel they fit into more than one category, while some people feel they don’t fit into any at all.

The most common acronym for identities and orientations is LQBTQIA+, which is far from comprehensive, but just learning what these stand for is a good start.


A lesbian is anyone who identifies with womanhood in some capacity and is attracted to other women.

lesbian pride flag

Lesbian pride flag


Gay is relevant for anyone who identifies as a man and is attracted to other men. Gay is also an umbrella term for anyone who identifies as homosexual and is sometimes interchangeably used with queer.

gay men's pride flag

Gay men's pride flag


Bisexual is anyone who is attracted to more than one gender, this can also encompass being Pansexual, which describes people whose attraction isn't affected by gender. The terms are subtle in their difference and often used interchangeably.

bi pride flag

Bisexual pride flag


Trans is actually an umbrella term for those who do not identify with the sex with which they were assigned at birth. This includes both binary and non-binary trans people. You may occasionally see it written as 'trans*' or 'trans+' with the added symbols to indicate that it covers a wide variety of gender experiences.

trans pride flag

Transgender pride flag


This part of the acronym represents those who are either in the process of examining their sexuality/gender, or those whose gender/sexuality is too complex to be summarised by any of the previous labels. It should be noted that although the word has now been reclaimed by the queer community, 'queer' was once a slur. If you're straight, don't assume you can use this word for someone.


Intersex is another umbrella term, for those who have variations in biological sex characteristics that mean they don’t fit the traditional biological definition of “male” or “female”. There is a huge variety of conditions associated with being intersex, so don't make any assumptions. Sex and gender are separate concepts, so a person could be both intersex and trans.

intersex pride flag

Intersex pride flag


Asexuality is when someone experiences little to no sexual attraction. Aromantic refers to those who experience little to no romantic attraction. This area of the acronym is equally another umbrella area that covers a great deal of terminology. For example, demisexual describes those who only experience sexual attraction after a romantic/platonic connection has formed, or greyromantic is for those who relate somewhat to the term aromantic but not fully.

asexual pride flag

Asexual pride flag

aromantic pride flag

Aromantic pride flag


The plus refers to any groups of people who don’t feel that they fit into any of these categories, or fit into more than one. It also covers cultural identities like Two-Spirit (sometimes included in the acronym as '2S') that have deeper specifics to them beyond the other letters.

It’s important to remember that everyone has a different experience of gender/sexuality and their own understanding of who they are. But it’s always worthwhile to learn some of the terminologies and keep up to date with what’s happening in LGBTQIA+ news. Keep an eye out for campaigns on campus to make your university more LGBTQIA+ friendly, and show your support!

You may also like:

Queer History 101: LGSM

Queer History 101: Section 28

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Beatrice Howard
Beatrice Howard on 12 January 2018