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LGBT (also GLBT) is an initialism referring collectively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual people. In use since the 1990s, the term LGBT is an adaptation of the initialism LGB. In modern use, the acronym relates to the diversity of gay culture.
Up until the sexual revolution of the 1960s, there were no widely known terms for describing the people in these groups other than the derogatory terms used by the straight community; third gender was in use before the second world war, but fell out of use afterwards. As people began organizing for their sexual rights, they needed a term that would say who they were in a positive way. (Compare heteronormativity)
The first term used, homosexual, was thought to carry negative connotations and has tended to be replaced by gay. As lesbians forged their own identity, the term gay and lesbian became more common. This was soon followed by bisexual and transgender people also asking for recognition as legitimate categories within the larger community. However, after the initial euphoria of the beginnings of the Stonewall riots wore off, starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a change in perception and some gays and lesbians were not very accepting of bisexual or transgender people.
It was thought that transsexual people were acting out stereotypes; and bisexuals were simply gay men or lesbian women who were simply afraid to "come out" and be honest about their identity. Like many organizations, the movement underwent growing pains, and these are seen even today in the fact that there is no agreement as to whether the acronym should be GLBT or LGBT.
Not until the 1990s did it become common to speak of "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people" with equal respect within the movement. Although the LGBT community has seen some controversy regarding universal acceptance of different members (transgender individuals, in particular, have sometimes been marginalized by the larger LGBT community), the term LGBT has been a positive symbol of inclusion. Despite the fact that LGBT does not nominally encompass all individuals in the queer communities (see Variants below), the term is generally accepted to include those not identified in the standard, four letter acronym. Overall, the use of the term LGBT has, over time, largely aided in bringing otherwise marginalized individuals into the general community.
Many variants exist, including variations which merely change the order of the letters; but LGBT or GLBT are the most common terms and the ones most frequently seen in current usage. Although identical in meaning, LGBT may have more feminist and queer connotations than "GLBT." When not inclusive of transgender people it is sometimes shortened to LGB. It may also include additional Qs for queer and/or questioning (sometimes abbreviated with a question mark) (LGBTQ, LGBTQQ, GLBTQ?). Other variants may add a U for "unsure", an I for intersex, another T for transsexual, another T (or TS or the numeral 2) for two-spirited people, an A or SA for allies, or an A for asexual. Some may also add a P for pansexual or polyamorous, and an O for omnisexual or other. The order of the letters is also not standardized; in addition to the uses that reverse the initial L and G, the extended letters, if used, may appear in almost any order.
Variant terms do not typically represent political differences within the community, however, but arise simply from the usage preferences of individuals and groups.
The magazine Anything That Moves coined the acronym FABGLITTER (from Fetish, Allies, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed, Transgender, Transsexual Engendering Revolution), although this term has not made its way into common usage.
The terms transsexual and intersex are regarded by some people as falling under the umbrella term transgender, though many transsexual and intersex people object to this (both for different reasons). Gay-straight alliance (GSA) organizations often use LGBTQA for LBGT, questioning and allies.
SGL (for same gender loving) is often favored by African-American homosexuals as a way of distinguishing themselves from what they regard as white-dominated LGBT communities.
LUG (for lesbian until graduation), GUG (gay until graduation) and BUG (bisexual until graduation) are facetious terms for young people (most commonly female) who experiment with same-sex relationships on a temporary basis, particularly while attending college or university.
MSM (for Men who have sex with men), is clinically used to describe men who have sex with other men without referring to their sexual orientation.
The terms LGBT or GLBT are not agreed upon by everyone. For example, it may be argued that the transgender and transsexual causes are not the same as that of LGB people. This argument centers on the idea that transgender and transsexuality have to do with gender identity, or a person's understanding of being male or female, irrespective of their sexual orientation. Meanwhile LGB issues may be seen as a matter of sexual orientation, or attraction. These distinctions have been made in the context of political action in which GLB goals may be perceived to differ from transgender and transsexual goals (e.g., same sex marriage legislation; the work of the Human Rights Campaign).
Similarly, some intersex people want to be included in LGBT groups and would prefer LGBTI; others insist that they are not a part of the LGBT community and would rather not be included in the term.
A reverse to the above situations is evident in the belief of 'lesbian & gay separatism' (not to be confused with the related, Lesbian Separatism) which holds that lesbians and gay men form (or should form) a community distinct and separate from other groups normally included in the LGBTQ sphere. While not always appearing of sufficient number or organization to be called a 'social movement', this group persists as a significant, and often vocal and active, element within most parts of the LGBT community. This is particularly noticeable in United Kingdom political and campaign organizations. People of this opinion will commonly also deny the existence or right-to-equality of non-monosexual orientations and of transsexuality. This can extend to public biphobia and transphobia.
Many people have looked for a generic term to replace the initialisms, acronyms, and abbreviations. Words like "queer" and "rainbow" have been tried but most have not been widely adopted. "Queer" has many negative connotations to older people who remember the word as a taunt and insult, a usage of the term that has continued. Many younger people also understand "queer" to be more politically charged than "LGBT". "Rainbow" has connotations that recall the hippies, New Age movements and politics (Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition.)
Other gay people also do not care for the term as the lettering comes across as being overly "politically correct", or as an attempt to categorize the various groups of people into one gray area word.
It is also worth noting that there are some lesbian, gay, bi people as well as ontologists who are against an "LGBT community", or "LGB community". Some are also against the LGBT rights, political and social solidarity, and visibility and human rights campaigning that normally goes with it (including pride marches and events). Some of them believe that grouping together people with non-heterosexual orientations perpetuates the myth that being gay/lesbian/bi makes a person deficiently different than other people. On the political landscape, this fraction of gay/lesbian/bi people may seem less visible compared to LGBT activists.
Since this fraction are difficult to distinguish from the heterosexual majority, it is common for people to assume all gay/lesbian/bi people support LGBT liberation and the visibility of LGBT people in society, including the right to live one's life in a different way from the majority.
- What is LGBT?
- Bisexual community
- Gay community
- Gay marketing
- LGBT rights opposition
- List of transgender-related topics
- List of LGBT publications
- List of LGBT-related organizations
- Queer theory
- Queer theology
- Safe Schools Coalition. Glossary. Published online.
- Religious Institute. "Time to Seek" Definitions. Published online.
- GLBTQ An Encyclopedia of GLBT & Queer culture