LGBT is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The initialism, as well as several of its popular forms, has been in use since the 1990s as an umbrella word encompassing sexuality and gender identity.
The word LGBT is an abbreviation of the initialism LGB, which began to supplant the term homosexual (or gay and lesbian) in reference to the larger LGBT population in the mid-to-late 1980s.
When transgender persons are not included, the shorter term LGB is used instead of LGBT.
The term queer may refer to anyone who is non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. To recognize this, a popular variant, LGBTQ, adds the letter Q for those who identify as queer or are questioning their sexual or gender identity.
History of the term
As lesbians forged more public identities, the phrase gay and lesbian became more common. The first widely used term, homosexual, has at times carried negative connotations in the United States. As equality was a priority for lesbian feminists, disparity of roles between men and women or butch and femme were viewed as patriarchal. Many lesbian feminists refused to work with gay men or take up their causes.
After the Stonewall riots in 1969, some gays and lesbians became less accepting of bisexual or transgender people. Critics said that transgender people were acting out stereotypes, and bisexuals were simply gay men or lesbian women who were afraid to come out. Not until the 1990s within the movement did gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people gain equal respect. The term LGBT has been a positive symbol of inclusion.
GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide states that LGBTQ is the preferred initialism, being more inclusive of younger members of the communities who embrace queer as a self-descriptor. Despite the fact that LGBT does not nominally encompass all individuals in smaller communities (see Variants below), the term is generally accepted to include those not specifically identified in the four-letter initialism.
GLBT may also include additional Qs for “queer” or “questioning” (sometimes abbreviated with a question mark and sometimes used to mean anybody not literally L, G, B or T) producing the variants LGBTQ and LGBTQQ. Although identical in meaning, LGBT may have a more feminist connotation than GLBT as it places the “L” (for “lesbian”) first.
In Spain, LGTB is used to mean reversed the letters “B” and “T”. The order of the letters has not been standardized; in addition to the variations between the initial “L” or “G”, the less common letters may appear in almost any order. Variant terms do not represent political differences within the community, but arise simply from the preferences of individuals and groups.
LGBT stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other terms (such as non-binary and pansexual)”. Other variants may have a “U” for “unsure”; a “C”, “T”, or “TS” for transvestite; or an “SA” for straight allies. The inclusion of “ally” in place of “asexual” has sparked controversy with some seeing it as a form of asexual erasure. In Canada, the community is sometimes identified as LGBTQ2 (gay, bi, trans, genderqueer, and two spirit).
The term trans* has been adopted by some groups as a more inclusive alternative to “transgender”. The term trans (without the asterisk) has been used to describe trans men and trans women, while trans* covers all non-cisgender (genderqueer) identities. Likewise, the term transsexual commonly falls under the umbrella term transgender, but some transsexual people object to this.
Intersex people are often added to the LGBT category to create an LGBTI community. Some intersex people prefer the initialism LGBTI, while others would rather that they not be included as part of the term. Intersex activism has fought for the rights of people who fall outside of expected binary sex and gender norms.
“Rainbow” has connotations that recall hippies, New Age movements, and groups such as the Rainbow Family or Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. SGL (same gender loving) is sometimes favored among gay male African Americans as a way of distinguishing themselves from what they regard as white-dominated LGBT communities.