The Evolution of LGBTQIA+ Terminology and Language

The Evolution of LGBTQIA+ Terminology and Language

The language surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation has evolved rapidly over the past few decades. As society's understanding and acceptance of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations grows, so does the terminology used.

Up until the late 19th century, there was little distinction made between one's gender identity and biological sex. As the LGBTQIA+ rights movements began gaining momentum in the 20th century, terminology expanded to describe a wider range of identities and orientations.

The acronym LGBT, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, came into widespread use in the 1990s. Since then, it has continued expanding to include more identities. The longer acronym LGBTQIA+ represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual/aromantic/agender identities, with the + signifying inclusion of all identities along the gender and sexuality spectrums.

The word "transgender" itself began seeing increasing usage in the 1970s and 1980s. Whereas transgender people were previously referred to as "transsexuals" or with inaccurate and often offensive terms like "cross-dressers," the term transgender emerged as a more inclusive, respectful way to encompass all those whose gender identity does not fully align with their sex assigned at birth.

The distinction between sex and gender also became clearer. Sex refers to biological characteristics, while gender refers to the social constructs and norms surrounding masculinity and femininity. As understanding of gender fluidity increases, some people prefer using no labels at all for their gender.

Pronoun usage has adapted along with gender terminology. More people are embracing gender-neutral pronouns like "they/them" singular pronouns and neopronouns such as ze/zir. Sharing one's personal pronouns, whether in email signatures, social media bios, or introductions, helps normalize these inclusive language practices.

Just as language for gender identity has needed reform, so has language for sexual and romantic orientations aimed to be more inclusive of all identities and experiences along the spectrum.

The word "queer" has been powerfully reclaimed from its previously derogatory use to encompass those outside societal norms for gender and attractions. "Questioning" also acknowledges those still exploring their identity. The umbrella terms pansexual, demisexual, sapiosexual and other sexual orientations embracing definitions beyond heterosexuality or homosexuality have also become more visible.

Language continues progressing to validate more diverse expressions of gender, attractions and relationships. Pushing language boundaries facilitates positive change in societal attitudes and legal protections. However, it's an evolving process, not easily condensed into a single acronym. The LGBTQIA+ initialism should be viewed as inclusive shorthand, not exclusionary.

Using accurate, respectful and inclusive language empowers marginalized communities. As culture and awareness develops, language requiring reform will likely continue emerging for progress to carry on. Keeping an open, learning mindset around LGBTQIA+ terminology paves the way for further social enlightenment down the road.

We at SHAVA are honored to share this article as a reflection of our deep commitment to celebrating the rich diversity within the transgender community. It is with heartfelt solidarity that we stand with transgender individuals of color, wholeheartedly advocating for an environment of acceptance and allyship. Through our efforts, we aim to uplift and honor the myriad of unique experiences that contribute to the beautiful tapestry of our community. Discover more about our initiatives at

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