Important Terms

Below you will find important terms that every activist should know. This page is currently under construction and only has GLBT-related terms, but eventually it will contain terms that are important to ability, race, religion, social class, and general activism.


Ally: Someone from a privileged status committed to eliminating stigma and the ill-treatment of those in stigmatized statuses.

-centrism or -centric: Suffix meaning centered around, focused around, taking the perspective of. Thus, androcentric means focused around or taking the perspective of men; heterocentric means taking the perspective of heterosexuals, and eurocentric means having a European focus.

Constructionism: The view that reality cannot be separated from the way a culture makes sense of it–that meaning is “constructed through social, political, legal, scientific, and other practices. From this perspective, differences among people are created through social processes. Compare with essentialism.

Dichotomize: To divide into two parts and to see those parts as mutually exclusive; e.g. black vs. white, male vs. female.

Differential undercount: In the census, undercounting more of one group than of another.

Discredited/Discreditable: The discredited are those whose stigma is known or apparent to others. The discreditable are those whose stigma is unknown or invisible to others; they are not yet discredited.

Double consciousness: A concept first offered by W.E.B. Du Bois to describe seeing oneself (or members of one’s group) through the eyes of a critical, dominant group member.

Entitlement: The belief that one has the right to respect, protection, reward, and other privileges.

Essentialism: The view that reality exists independently of our perception of it, that we perceive the meaning of the world rather than construct that meaning. From this perspective there are real and important (essential) differences among categories of people.

Gandhi’s paradox: While nothing we do as individuals matters, it is important to take action anyway.

Hegemonic: Dominating or ruling. A hegemonic ideology is a belief that is pervasive in a culture.

Ideology: A widely shared belief that primarily reflects the experiences of those with power, but is presented as universally valid.

Intersectionality: Consideration of the ways that master statuses interact and mutually construct one another.

Janus-faced nature of society: That people create society, but also that society constrains people.

Looping/Rereading: Interpreting (and usually dismissing) someone’s words or actions because of the status that the person occupies.

Marked/Unmarked statuses: A marked status is one identified as “special” in some way, for example, a blind musician or a woman doctor. Unmarked statuses, such as musician or doctor, do not have such qualifiers.

Master status: A status that has a profound effect on one’s life, that dominates or overwhelms the other statuses one occupies.

Objectification: Treating people as if they were objects, as if they were nothing more than the attributes they display.

Other: A usage designed to refer to those considered profoundly unlike oneself.

Passing: Not revealing a stigmatized identity.

Privilege: The advantages provided by some statuses.

Social institution: Established system for meeting societal needs; for example, the family.

Status: A position in society. Individuals occupy multiple statuses simultaneously, such as occupational, kinship, and educational statuses.

Stereotype: A characterization of a category of people as all alike, as possessing the same set of characteristic and likely to behave in the same ways.

Stigma: An attribute for which someone is considered bad, unworthy, or deeply discredited.


Abelism/Disablism: Analogous to racism and sexism, a system of cultural, institutional, and individual discrimination against people with impairments. Disablism is the British term; disability oppression is synonymous.

Disability: The loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others because of physical and social barriers.

Impairment: Physical, cognitive, emotional, or sensory conditions within the person as diagnosed by medical professionals.


Ally: An advocate for persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, who works towards combating homophobia and heterosexism, both on a personal and institutional level.

Androgyny: A blend of gender identity and roles that blurs the distinction between masculine and feminine.

Biological Sex: The distinction between female and male based on physiological characteristics, especially chromosomes, reproductive anatomy, and external genitalia.

Biphobia: The fear, hatred, or intolerance of those assumed to be bisexual.

Bisexual: A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually committed or attracted to a member or members of either sex.

Butch: A lesbian who prefers traditionally masculine dress, style, expression, or identity. (slang term)

Camp: In LGBT circles, people (especially gay men) may be described as “camp” or “campy” if they behave in a manner that exaggerates gay mannerisms or stereotypes. Such exaggeration is often powerful in its ability to reveal the absurdity of gender expectations.

Closet: To be “in the closet” means to hide one’s sexual identity in order to keep a job, a housing situation, friends, family, or in some way to survive.

“Coming Out” or “Out of the Closet”: To publicly declare that one is LGBT. This is in contrast to “staying in the closet” by hiding one’s sexuality either from oneself or others. This is not a single event but a life-long process. In each new situation, one must decide whether or not to come out.

Cross-Dresser:  A person who enjoys wearing clothing considered appropriate for someone of the other sex. A cross-dresser may be heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual.

Domestic Partner: One who lives with her or his beloved and is emotionally and financially connected in a supportive manner with another.

Drag: Wearing clothes considered appropriate for someone of the other sex.

Drag King and Drag Queen: A woman and a man, respectively, who employ gender-marked clothing, makeup, and mannerisms for entertainment purposes.

Dyke: A term applied to lesbians, usually negatively, to stereotype them as masculine. Also used by lesbians as a term of pride to mean a strong, independent woman. (slang term)

Faggot/Fag: A derogatory term, although some gay men use it affectionately with each other. Traditionally, a Latin word that means “bundle of sticks”. Used to describe British lower-classmen who were forced to perform sexual services to the upper class.

Fag Hag: A woman, often heterosexual (straight), who prefers the company of gay men. (slang term)

Family: A term used by gays and lesbians to identify another suspected or confirmed gay person. Example: “I believe the new guy is family.” (slang term)

Femme: A lesbian, or gay woman, who prefers traditionally feminine dress, style, expression, or identity.

Flamer: A gay man; used as a derogatory term for a gay man whose behavior is stereotypically “flamboyant.” (slang term)

FTM: A female-to-male transsexual or transgender man. A person who is assigned a female sex at birth but who identifies as male. Abbreviations include F to M and F2M.

Gay: A common and acceptable word for men who are homosexual, but can also be used to describe women who are homosexual (lesbians).

Gaydar: Gay radar; the belief that one has an intuitive ability to identify someone’s sexual orientation. (slang term)

Gender: The social construction of masculinity and femininity in a specific culture. It includes gender roles (the expectations of someone based on their gender), gender attribution (how others perceive someone’s gender), and gender identity. Gender is different from sexuality and biological sex.

Gender Bending: Blurring the binary (male/female) gender roles. Dressing in such a way to question the traditional feminine or masculine qualities assigned to clothing. Can be part of fashion or a political statement.

Gender Dysphoria: The overall psychological term used to describe the feelings of pain, anguish, and anxiety that arise from the mismatch between a person’s physical sex and gender identity, and from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.

Gender Expression: How one chooses to express one’s gender identity through clothing, attitudes, and behaviors.

Gender Identity: A person’s sense of being male or female. NOT entirely contingent upon the individual’s biological sex. The exact process by which boys and girls come to see themselves as males or females is not known. However, research indicates that gender identity develops some time between birth and 3 years of age.

Hermaphrodite: In biology, refers to an individual with reproductive organs normally associated with both male and female sexes. An outdated, derogatory term that has been replaced by intersexed.

Heteronormativity: All the beliefs, norms, and social structures that contribute to the presumption that heterosexuality is the natural, normal, and inevitable structure of society.

Heterosexism: The system of oppression that reinforces the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships and negates the lives and relationships of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

Heterosexual: A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually committed or attracted to a member or members of the other sex.

Heterosexual Privilege: The basic civil rights and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives that are systematically denied to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender simply due to their sexual orientation. Examples: marriage, partnership benefits, holding hands in public.

Homophobia: Negative feelings, attitudes, actions or behaviors against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. It may also manifest as a person’s fear of being perceived as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. See also “Biphobia” and “Transphobia.”

Homosexual: A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually committed or attracted to a member or members of the same sex. Term coined in 1869 by medical profession as a psychological pathology. Most individuals who are LGBT do not use this term to define themselves. Additionally, homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, or American Medical Association.

Intersex: Individuals born with sex chromosomes, ambiguous external genitalia, or internal reproductive system not identified as “normal” for either male or female. A preferred alternative to hermaphrodite. In the past most individuals who are intersexed have had surgery shortly after birth in an attempt to give them an “identifiable” gender.

Kinsey Scale: The continuum model devised by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 that plotted sexuality from 0 to 6, 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. It was the first scale to account for bisexuality. According to a 1954 survey using the scale, 70% of people fell between 1 and 5. It’s been criticized for being too linear and only accounting for behavior and not sexual identity.

Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually committed or attracted to other women.

Lipstick Lesbian: Used to describe lesbian and bisexual women who exhibit feminine gender attributes, such as wearing make-up, wearing dresses or skirts and perhaps having other characteristics associated with feminine women. (slang term)

LGBT (or GLBT): Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. Term includes both sexual orientation and gender identification.

Metrosexual: Heterosexual male who has a strong concern for his appearance or a lifestyle that displays attributes stereotypically associated with men who are gay. (slang term)

MTF: A male-to-female transsexual or transgender woman. A person who is assigned a male sex at birth but who identifies as female. Abbreviations also include M to F and M2F.

Mary: A gay man. (slang term)

Miss Thang: A drag queen. Origins come from African American culture, where “Miss Fine Thang” meant a woman who thought a lot of herself and had a big attitude. (slang term)

Newbie: A recently “out” person who is LGBT, especially any sweet, inexperienced, young gay man or lesbian. (slang term)

Outing: Publicly revealing the sexual orientation of an individual without his/her permission. Some activists, political groups and media believe outing is justified when the person involved works against the interests of individuals who are LGBT. Others oppose it entirely as an invasion of privacy.

Passing: With regards to sex, gender, and sexuality, passing means being perceived as a sex, gender, or sexuality other than the one you were assigned or with which you identify. Example: Passing as straight

Pride: The belief that “Gay is Good!”; used in titles of LGBT events. (slang term)

Queen: A gay man who prefers traditionally feminine dress, style, expression or identity. If you identify as straight, use caution with this term. (slang term)

Queer: Used by some to refer to themselves as a person who is LGBT or even someone who is supportive of the LGBT community. It often serves as a political statement as well as an identity or label. Many of those who use the term feel it is more inclusive, allowing for the diversity of race, class, ability, and gender that is represented by LGBT communities. Traditionally, it means odd or unusual with negative connotations.

SASA/GAGA: Straight acting, straight appearing/ gay acting, gay appearing; often found in personal ads.

Sex: An act or series of acts that humans do as part of the expression of their sexual nature and their desire for love and affection; biological traits used to categorize someone as either male or female.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS): The permanent surgical refashioning of sexual anatomy to resemble that of the appropriate sex.

Sexuality: How people experience the erotic and express themselves as sexual beings. Includes biological, physical, and emotional aspects.

Sexual Identity: How one identifies one’s sexual feelings and desires; not necessarily one’s behaviors.

Sexual Orientation: A person’s emotional, physical, and psychological attraction to the other sex (heterosexual), same sex (homosexual), either sex (bisexual) or no sex (asexual).

Straight: A heterosexual person. A non-queer individual. (slang term)

Third Sex: A gender category of people who are considered neither completely male nor completely female. It is a gender identity separate from “men” and “women.” Individuals are considered to be an intermediate sex, in-betweens (androgynes) or neutrals (agendered).

Transgender: An umbrella term for persons who self-identify or challenge traditional notions of “male” and “female”. Someone who does not fit the standard female/male gender patterns accepted by dominant society. Includes people whose gender identity does not match their biological sex, people who identify as both the “male” and “female” identities, transsexuals, transvestites (cross-dressers), drag queens and kings, and gender queers.

Transphobia: The fear, hatred, or intolerance of people who identify or are perceived as transgendered.

Transsexual: A person who identifies with a gender different from their biological sex. Transsexuals often undergo hormone treatments and sex reassignment surgeries (SRS) to align their anatomy with their core identity, but not all desire or can afford to do so.

Transvestite: Another term for cross-dresser. One who wears the clothes of another gender.

Transition: Gender transition is the period during which transsexual persons begin changing their appearances and bodies to match their internal gender identity. While in transition, they are very vulnerable to discrimination and need support from friends and family.

Toaster: A word used to refer to the joke that people can be made homosexual by homosexuals; refers to the coming out episode on the television show Ellen. (slang term)

Two-Spirited: Native American concept present in some indigenous cultures across North America and parts of Central and South America. It is a term of reverence, traditionally referring to people who display both masculine and feminine sex or gender characteristics. Named “berdache” by European colonists, those who are Two-Spirited are and were traditionally respected. They may be healers or leaders thought to possess a high spiritual development.

U-Hauling: Refers to the perceived rapidity in which lesbians want to commit. (slang term)


Aggregate: To combine or lump together (verb); something composed of different elements. Often used when talking about racial groups; for example, the terms “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Spanish origin” refer to 28 different census categories. Compare with disaggregate.

Aversive racism: Unrecognized prejudices that affect behavior.

Disaggregate: To separate something into its constituent elements. For example, it was found in a 2009 Pew Survey of U.S.-born Latino youth (age 16-250 that 41% refer to themselves first by the country their parents left. Compare with aggregate.

Ethnic group/Ethnicity: Those who share a sense of being a “people,” usually based on national origin.

Panethnic: A classification that spans ethnic identities.

Race: The conception that people can be classified into groups based on skin color, hair texture, shape of head, eyes, nose, and lips.


Under construction


Social Darwinism: The belief that those who dominate a society are necessarily the fittest.



McKibban, A.R., & Young, S.L. (2011). University of Southern Indiana Safe Zone Resource Manual. Evansville: University of Southern Indiana.
Rosenblum, K.E., & Travis, T.C. (2012). The Meaning of Difference (6th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

This page is constantly under construction. If there are terms you feel should be added to the list, please email



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