Many people have expressed confusion over the meaning of this commonly employed acronym. It's easy to understand where that confusion arises from, admittedly; while the assertion that “they add a new letter each week” is both condescending and inaccurate, it does sync with the impression being made by the many forms of this abbreviation which exist. More specifically, it matches up with the fact that multiple versions of this acronym are used on a regular basis – sometimes by the same people. Many who aren't a part of the LGBTQIA+ community are not familiar with the specific or implied meaning associated with the different abbreviated versions of the moniker, and there is a lot of misleading material available which can result in false impressions.
In the following account, I hope to clarify some of these acronyms, to explain their meaning, and to illustrate why and how they are in use at the same time. The frequent assertion that they are simply the same thing, with additional letters being tacked on as new descriptions are contrived or invented, is an honest misunderstanding.
LGBT: What it Means and Why it's Used
You will often hear about “the LGBT community.” LGBT stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual,” with the inclusion of “Transgender” having recently gained significant recognition as well.
The LGBT acronym serves as a convenient identifier. It is not, in this capacity, functioning as a specific recognition of all of the individual groups of people who fall under its label, but rather as a representation of the collective whole of the community.
Supposing you work for a major corporation which owns several smaller companies. You actually work within one of those smaller companies, but anything that applies to “Alpha Corporation” also applies to you. It is not meant to be a divisive moniker; quite the opposite, in fact. It is a broadly encompassing term that is meant to apply to everyone who is a part of the community at large. This is also a readily recognizable form, which makes it more convenient when one is dealing with the media, other large organizations, or individuals outside of – and unfamiliar with – the shared LGBT culture.
LGBTQ: How and Why it’s Different
One of the versions of the acronym that is less frequently employed is LGBTQ. The “Q,” in this case, stands for “Queer,” “Questioning,” or “Genderqueer.” The word “queer” is sometimes used as a blanket term for anyone who is neither heterosexual, nor cisgender (now, there's a much-maligned term; “cisgender” simply means that you identify with your biological gender, nothing more; unfortunately, some extremists have taken to using it as an insult). The word “questioning” is inclusive in this, but it reflects somebody who is not certain about either their sexuality, or the gender with which they identify – except that they know it isn't “normal.”
“Genderqueer” is less well-known and understood by many, in particular by those outside of the LGBT community. People who are “Genderqueer” or “Gender fluid” do not identify primarily as being of either standard gender. They may identify with something completely different, or they may have shifting, overlapping identities – one or more male, and one or more female. Genderqueer individuals tend to be extremely unique and individual personalities.
LGBTQ was conceived of in response to the understanding that people falling under the “Q,” with all that it entails, are not necessarily accurately described by one of the four letters preceding it. It is one of the longest-maintained forms of the acronym which is intended to specifically reflect everybody that is included within it, and may be found used in that form – or, similarly to LGBT, in a form meant to reflect the whole of a community that consists internally of many varying and unique parts.
LGBTQIA+: An Inclusive Community
LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation which is meant to be specifically inclusive of everybody who is a part of the LGBT community. It is meant to help everybody who is a part of one or more marginalized and rejected groups to understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves – a community which cares, and which accepts them for who they are. This is a powerful feeling, one that most people take for granted. For the average, heterosexual, cisgendered person, there is no comparison to the feeling that they are literally rejected as being human, by a significant portion of the human race, for something that is so fundamentally and crucially a part of who they are as an individual. It isn't simply an aspect of their appearance – which is not meant in any way to make light of racism.
It is something which is deeply defining of who they are as a person, and would be even if we all shared the same race, culture, and ethnicity.
LGBTQIA+ adds three additional points to the acronym.
“I” stands for “Intersex.” Intersex is a reference to people who are literally “between sexes” and are thus neither male nor female. It is a biological, physiological definition, referring to people who have – for example – both male and female sex organs, although this is not a given. They might have biological chemistry relating to either gender, or some other “mix” of sexes that is not pyschological.
“A” stands for “Asexual.” Asexual people feel no great sexual attraction to other people, regardless of gender. There are a broad range of preferences related to, or falling under, asexuality; for many asexuals, they simply feel no desire to participate in sexual acts. They may feel romantically attached to another person; for many asexuals, that attachment doesn't seem to respect gender at all. Others define themselves as heterosexual or homosexual. Some asexuals feel sexual urges, but have no desire to participate in standard, penetrative sex – nor are they, as a rule, repulsed by it. The desire simply isn't there.
The “+” at the end is simply meant to include everyone who might fall outside of the other parts of the acronym. The community strives to be all-inclusive, but it would be possible to stretch the acronym out until it became completely unusable. The hope is that by the recognition of the “+” at the end, that those who fall under less common categories are no less significant to the community as a whole, and are as warmly welcomed within it as everyone else.
A Community that Cares
By whatever abbreviation it is known, the members of the LGBT community have built up a warm and welcoming culture, one which provides a place within it for individuals – regardless of traits labeled as deviant, abnormal, or strange by those outside of it – to feel loved and appreciated for who they are. There is a powerful need that lies behind being open about every aspect of one's individuality, and the desire to be accepted for who one is. The goal of the LGBT community is to extend that acceptance, while working to change prevailing attitudes in society. Hopefully, we will someday be able to help everyone to see everyone else in a better light.