The Deal With the History and Evolution of the LGBT Abbreviation
Our society has become more accepting of people who do not fit into the norm. Attitudes shared by Americans in regards to the LGBT community have changed quite a lot over the years, even when just comparing the past few decades. This 2021 poll found that same-sex marriage support in the United States has reached 70%. Many wish this would have hit 100% by now, but looking back on where things once were, it is easy to see that 70% is a huge milestone.
There is still discrimination and we’re not where we need to be quite yet, but many who once feared or hated queer people have come to understand them or are at least working towards acceptance. There is more representation of the LGBT community in media as well as visibility throughout the year, not just discussions during a single month that large companies have just for profit. Now, you no longer have to exclusively visit a pride shop to find pride clothes and other LGBT-themed items.
All of this has helped people realize that it is okay to be who they are. Even adults who have spent years of their lives afraid of coming out have recently felt encouraged to do so. This new openness has encouraged research and surveys to be conducted, and that information is now available at our fingertips. Both straight people who were once uneducated, and those who don’t align with heterosexual or cisgender identities, have benefited from this accessibility. Members of this community can also connect in ways they were unable to before.
As more discussions take place, concepts within the community continue to grow, and the acronym LGBT has had to expand along with this.
More letters have been added to include the vast amounts of sexual orientations and gender identities. It seems with every passing year more labels and identities come about. That is not to say these are entirely new feelings and identities, but rather that it takes time for language to catch up.
There are plenty of people out there who have not been able to find the perfect word to communicate their identity to others. That perfect term might be out there waiting for them to discover it, or maybe it has not been created just yet. That is why new terminology is constantly being created. Everyone deserves to be able to express their gender and sexuality.
When was the LGBT acronym created?
For many in the United States, it is hard to picture a world without inclusive terminology that covers a large range of sexual orientations and gender identities out there. However, if you ask someone a few decades older than you how things once were for this community, they would tell you that this openness has not always been the case. The journey to gain recognition was a long and painful one that is easy for younger generations to take for granted.
The movement behind the acronym LGBT began around the 1940s and 1950s. At this time, the word gay was used to describe both men and women attracted to people of the same sex.
There was a lot of stigma surrounding those who identified as gay. Homosexuality was considered to be a mental disorder. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality as a diagnosis from the second edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Eventually, the term gay started to be used for men more than women. While it is unclear when the term lesbian originated, it was centuries ago. Quite a ways down the line, around the 1970s, the term grew in popularity and became what it is today. At this point, the terms gay and lesbian were widely used.
A few decades later, in the 1990s, bisexual became a more recognized term, according to Steven Petrow of the Washington Post. The word bisexual was first used back in 1892 but, it took time to catch on. As the years continued to go by, the letters expanded beyond sexuality and entered the world of gender. Those who identified as transgender or transexual were eventually represented with a T being added.
At first, this acronym remained in the order it came about, GLBT. Most people these days refer to it in the order LGBT. This usage remained the chosen abbreviation for quite some time.
Where do we stand with the acronym today?
There is no way of knowing just how many sexualities and genders exist because new terms are constantly being created. There are now at least 46 terms to describe sexuality and at least 64 terms to describe gender identity.
With such a large variety of sexual orientations and gender identities, it would be impossible for each identity to be represented by a letter in one acronym. It would simply be way too long, but that has not stopped the abbreviation from growing a little bit.
LGBT blossomed into LGBTQ, adding queer to the mix. Sometimes this Q stands for questioning, but this is also occasionally represented by an additional Q. As time went on, this developed even further into LGBTQIA+. This longer acronym added intersex, asexual, and a + symbol to encompass anyone who does not fit under the preceding letters. The A is also sometimes used to represent the term ally. While uncommon, in some instances, two additional Ts are added to represent transexual and two-spirited people.
The most common acronyms seen are LGBT, LGBTQ+, and LGBTQIA+. On rare occasions, you will see LGBTTTIQQA or LGBTQQIAAP. The latter adds a P for pansexual, but it is rare for this sexuality to be represented with a letter.
Before we go any further, we should break down the meanings of each letter within the most common acronym, LGBTQIA+.
You may have made your way to this post as someone completely unfamiliar with the abbreviation of LGBT. You might have been searching for pride clothes within our pride shop but are now curious to learn more. As terms continue to evolve and the acronym expands, even those who identify within this community often find themselves needing a refresher.
This term is commonly used to describe women that are attracted to other women. However, like all other terms within this community, it is more complex than that. To identify as a lesbian, someone does not have to be cisgender. The term lesbian is inclusive of people who identify as non-binary, multi-gendered, etc., and this attraction is not always physical but can instead be romantic or emotional. Like with every term, one person who identifies as a lesbian might interpret it differently from another. In some cases, lesbians prefer to refer to themselves as gay or queer.
Similar to lesbian, the term gay typically refers to a man who is attracted to other men. This attraction can be emotional, romantic, or physical. Gay can also mean anyone who is attracted to the same gender. For example, instead of using the term lesbian, some women prefer to use the term gay.
This term refers to someone that is attracted to the same gender as them, as well as people of other genders. Those who identify as bisexual might not even consider the gender of the person they are attracted to. Some people mistake bisexuality as an experiment or the first step to coming out before coming out fully as lesbian or gay. That is not the case. You do not even need to have sexual, romantic, or emotional experiences with people to be confident you are bisexual.
Typically, transgender individuals identify outside of the sex they were assigned at birth. They might differ within their gender expression or gender identity. Some transgender people seek help from doctors to change their bodies in ways that align with their identity. However, not all transgender individuals choose to do so. In those cases, these people are still transgender.
The term queer has not always had positive connotations. It once was used in derogatory ways towards the LGBTQ+ community. The community has taken this word back and made it more of an umbrella term to cover a large number of people who do not identify as heterosexual. This can include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and more. It is important to know that not everyone within the LGBTQ+ community likes this word, but for the most part, it has become something more empowering.
The Q in LGBTQ+ tends to mean queer however in some cases, it stands for questioning. This term is for anyone questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation.
This term is used for someone that is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy outside of simply female or male. There is not just a single way for someone to be intersex. They may have chromosomes that differ from XY or XX. They could have internal sex organs or external genitals that do not fit the binary concept of male or female. In many cases, surgeries are done on intersex babies to align them better with either male or female characteristics. Some people do not know they are intersex until late in life, while others are told right away. Some never even find out.
Asexual is the term for those who do not feel sexual attraction or desire to be involved in a partnership that includes sex. Asexual people, also sometimes referred to as ace or aces, may not have sexual feelings or attraction. They tend to lack all interest in sex, but some asexual individuals participate in sexual activity at some point. They may also have a romantic attraction with a lack of sexual interest.
An ally is someone who fights back against homophobia and other hatred aimed at those who identify as LGBTQIA+. They try to educate people and help them work through their negative opinions. Many people who are against others based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression simply need to be educated. Allies believe that it is important to fight for LGBTQIA+ individuals. They work to confront issues and stand up for those around them.
Finally, the + symbol represents anyone in the community that is not included in the acronym. It is added at the end of the acronym so people of all genders and sexualities are included, even if there is not a specific letter for them. In all likelihood, there are still words that describe sexual orientations and gender identities that have not yet been created. The + is for them too.
Why has the acronym LGBT continued to develop over time?
Margo M. Jacquot, founding director of The Juniper Center, told the Chicago Tribune that “it’s very culturally and generationally driven.” Over the past century, seemingly endless terms for gender identities and sexual orientations have come about. With this, initials continue to be added to the abbreviation. Younger generations tend to be more open and strive to include everyone as best as they can.
If there is not a term to describe a person's identity just yet, one will likely be created eventually. There is a large chance that others will find this new term and be elated to see that someone else feels exactly how they do. Adopting new terms to describe different identities allows people to feel seen. Representation is a big part of equality and it matters deeply.
Gender identity and sexual orientation both exist on a spectrum. People fall at different spots along this spectrum, some of which do not have labels yet. The most commonly referred to spectrum when it comes to sexual orientation is the Kinsey scale, but it does not matter what spectrum you choose to look at. The important thing for people to understand is that both gender and sexuality exist beyond simple binary definitions.
What is next for this abbreviation?
It is hard to say what will become of the abbreviation. New identities come about nearly every year. Typically, these are not added to the acronym. It would be difficult to be so inclusive of everyone that we add a letter for every sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is also worth noting that not every person who uses a particular sexual orientation or gender identity to describe themselves feels the same way about its meaning. For example, when it comes to being transgender, there could be two people who use that term but feel very differently about their identity. They may both have been assigned the same gender at birth and come out as transgender later in life, but then go on to use different pronouns.
Other people may find a sexual orientation or gender they identify with and come out, only to realize that this was not the correct term for how they feel inside. They may then find a different word that is a better fit and come out again. Then, of course, some people know who they are pretty early in life and never change.
There are so many identities out there to learn about and explore. Everyone has a unique story and experience when it comes to finding themselves. This can be a beautiful thing, but it also makes creating the perfect all-inclusive acronym quite the challenge.
Only time will tell how much further the abbreviation will change. Some still prefer to use the original LGBT or LGBTQ over the form LGBTQIA+, while others prefer not to use any.
While many who identify as anything other than heterosexual or cisgender are happy that the acronym has grown into what it is today, some are not big fans.
Some have found issues with the growth of this acronym. They argue that by adding more letters to the abbreviation, instead of being more inclusive, we are instead focusing on our many differences.
Lea DeLaria, who played Boo on Orange Is the New Black spoke about this in an interview with Pride Source. Instead of using the acronym, she sticks to the word queer. Many others do the same. By using the term queer, everyone within this community is included, but the focus is on what we have in common rather than our different identities.
However, the majority love the ever-changing acronym. With each additional term, more people feel represented. There is also the possibility that people who do not know much about the LGBTQ+ community might see a letter they are unfamiliar with and get curious enough to research the term on their own. This act increases awareness, and the more educated people are, the better things seem to go.