LGBT (or GLBT) is an abbreviation used as a collective term to refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. It is not an acronym, but an adaption of the abbreviation LGB. While sometimes still seen as controversial (see Controversy, below), it is considered less controversial than the terms queer or lesbigay and is more comprehensive than homosexual or simply gay. The acronym GLBT is sometimes used in the United States, but to a lesser extent elsewhere.
Meaning of each term
Each term in the acronym is used to refer to members of the specific group and to the community (subculture) that surrounds them. This can include rights advocates, artists, authors, etc.
In this context, lesbian refers to females with a sexual orientation towards females; and the general lesbian (and to some extent, parts of the lesbian-supportive feminist) community.
In this context, gay refers specifically to males with a sexual orientation towards males; and the gay male community, though the term can be used without respect to the gender of the person in question in wider contexts.
Bisexual refers to persons who are attracted to both males and females. Bisexuality can fall anywhere between the sexual orientations of homosexuality and heterosexuality.
Transgender is generally used as a catch-all umbrella term for a variety of individuals, behaviours, and groups centred around the full or partial reversal of gender roles as well as physical sexual reassignment therapies (which can be just hormonal or involve various degrees of surgical alteration). A common definition is “People who feel that the gender they were assigned (usually at birth) is a false or incomplete description of themselves.” Included in this definition are a number of well known sub-categories such as transsexual, transvestite and sometimes genderqueers (see also cross-dressing).
Intersex refers to ambiguous or mismatching sexual characteristics (including levels of sex hormones) and those people who have them. This is distinct from the older term hermaphrodite, which is generally not accurate when referring to vertebrates (including humans). In many cases, the line between intersex and transgender is complex, and some individuals fit into both classifications.
Up until the sexual revolution of the 1960s there were no widely known terms for describing the people in these groups other than the derogatory terms used by the straight community; third gender, in use before the second world war, fell out of use after it. As people began organizing for their sexual rights they needed a term that would say who they were in a positive way. (Compare heteronormativity)
The first term used, Homosexual, carried too much negative baggage and was replaced by “Gay”. As Lesbians forged their own identity, the term “Gay and Lesbian” became more common.
LGBT became increasingly common from the mid 1990s and as of 2005, LGBT has become so mainstream that it has been adopted by the majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community centres and the gay press in most English-speaking countries. In October 2004, media company PlanetOut Inc., which owns the PlanetOut.com and Gay.com domains, chose LGBT as its ticker symbol when it listed on the NASDAQ exchange after a successful IPO. To date it has remained mostly a text-based, rather than a conversational, term.
Many variants exist, including variations which merely change the order of the letters; but LGBT is the most common acronym and the one most accepted in current usage. When not inclusive of transgender people it is shortened to LGB. It may also include two additional Qs for queer and questioning (sometimes abbreviated with a question mark) (LGBTQ, LGBTQQ); a variant being LGBU, where U stands for “unsure”, an I for intersex (LGBTI), another T for transsexual (LGBTT), another T (or TS or the numeral 2) for two-spirited people, and an A for straight allies (LGBTA). At its fullest, then, it is some permutation of LGBTTTIQQA, though this is extremely rare. The magazine Anything That Moves coined the acronym FABGLITTER (from Fetish, Allies, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed, Transgender, Transsexual Engendering Revolution). This term has not made its way into common usage.
The terms transsexual and intersex are regarded by some people as falling under the umbrella term transgender, though many transsexual and intersex people object to this (both for different reasons). Gay-straight alliance (GSA) organizations often use LGBTQA for LGBT — questioning and allies.
Some variants are local alterations that are used to the exclusion of others by virtue of being commonplace in a region. For example, in Minnesota the term GLBT is more prominent.
LGBT is not uncontroversial. For example, some transgender and transsexual people do not like the term because they do not believe their cause is the same as that of LGB people; they may also object when an organisation adds a T to their acronym when the level of service they actually offer to trans people is questionable. There are also LGB people who don’t like the T for the same or similar reasons.
Many people also believe that a sharp distinction should be drawn between sexual orientation and gender identity. GLB concerns the former; TTI concerns the latter.
Similarly, some intersex people want to be included into LGBT groups and would prefer LGBTI; others insist that they are not a part of the LGBT community and would rather not be included in the acronym.
Many people have looked for a generic term to replace acronyms. Words like “queer” and “rainbow” have been tried but most have not been widely adopted. “Queer” has many negative connotations to older people who remember the word as a taunt and insult, a usage of the term which has continued. Many younger people also understand “queer” to be more politically charged than “LGBT”. “Rainbow” has connotations that recall the hippies, New Age movements and politics (Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.)