If you are just starting to learn about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, there are hundreds of questions you may have. Below are just a few of the most frequently asked questions that people ask as they start on their journey of acceptance.
LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning. Sometimes it appears only as LGBT or GLBT, and sometimes as LGBTQIA, with the "I" for Intersex and the "A" for Asexual.
It is important to note "Queer" is a term that is offensive to some members of the LGBTQIA community and should be used with care. Originally a derogatory word, "Queer" has been reclaimed by many as a word of power and a way to refer to the diverse spectrum of LGBTQIA people.
For more information on language, check out Useful Terms.
A common concern we hear from many people (parents, siblings, teachers, employers, LGBTQIA individuals... the list goes on) is that they don't know what the 'correct' thing to say is. So, they choose not to say anything at all. Ironically, language becomes one of their biggest barriers to communicating with someone who identifies as LGBTQ.
When in doubt, ask. When you find yourself talking to someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and\or ally (LGBTQIA) and you don't know what words to use, it's okay to admit that you don’t know the correct terminology and vocabulary and ask if they’d be willing to sit down with you and talk about terminology.
Mirror the language you hear. When you hear someone use a specific term to describe themselves, use that term when you talk to them. For example, if you are speaking with someone and hear them refer to the person they have a romantic relationship with as their “partner,” you might ask them next time you see them, “How is your partner doing?”
Don't make assumptions. Don’t assume how an individual identifies based on their appearance or because they are out to you, they are out to everyone. Many LGBTQIA individuals and their families may be out in certain areas of their life (they are out to their friends, for example), but not out in other areas of their life (they are not out to their family or church, for example).
If you are the parent, guardian, or family member of a LGBTQIA loved one, you go through your own coming out process. You may have all the questions and none of the answers; that's okay. Find someone you can talk to about your questions and concerns.
If your loved one is just starting their coming out journey, it may be helpful to them and to you to express your confusion and concerns to a trusted third-party (like PFLAG!). This way, your questions and concerns do not come across to a possibly already vulnerable person as "unacceptance."
PFLAG offers local support and education all across the country. Members in PFLAG chapters know what you’re going through and can help. You may be experiencing an array of emotions such as grief, guilt, and denial, and you could be facing new questions about your relationship with your LGBTQIA loved one.
Whatever your reaction, remember that your loved one is sharing one part of their identity with you and is ultimately the same person as yesterday.
It’s seldom appropriate to ask a person about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Your perception of another person’s sexual orientation (gay or straight) or gender identity (male or female) is not necessarily what it appears.
No one can know for sure unless the person has actually declared that they are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. PFLAG recommends creating a safe space by showing your support of LGBTQIA issues on a non-personal level. For example, take an interest in openly discussing and learning about topics such as same-sex marriage or LGBTQIA rights in the workplace. Learn about LGBTQIA communities and culture. Come out as an ally, regardless of if your friend or loved one is LGBTQIA.
Try the question another way: How does someone know they are heterosexual?
Some lesbian, gay and bisexual people say that they have "felt different" from their straight peers or knew they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were very young. Some transgender people talk about feeling from an early age that their gender identity did not match parental and social expectations.
Others do not figure out their sexual orientation or gender identity until they are adolescents or adults. Often it can take a while for people to put a label to their feelings, or people's feelings may change over time.
Understanding our sexuality and gender can be a lifelong process, and people shouldn't worry about labeling themselves right away or permanently. However, with positive images of LGBTQIA people more readily available, it is becoming easier for people to identify their feelings and come out at earlier ages. People don't have to be sexually active to know their sexual orientation - feelings and emotions are as much a part of one's identity.
The short answer is that you'll know when you know.
No – and efforts to do so aren’t just unnecessary – they’re damaging.
Religious and secular organizations do sponsor campaigns and studies claiming that LGBTQIA people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. These studies and campaigns suggesting that LGBTQIA people can change are based on ideological biases and not peer-reviewed solid science. No studies show proven long-term changes in gay or transgender people, and many reported changes are based solely on behavior and not a person's actual self-identity.
The American Psychological Association has stated that scientific evidence shows that reparative therapy (therapy which claims to change LGBTQIA people) does not work and is psychologically harmful.
No one knows exactly how sexual orientation and gender identity determined. While research has not determined a cause, being LGBTQIA is not anyone's "fault," nor is it the result of any one factor like parenting or past experiences.
However, experts agree that it is a complicated matter of genetics, biology, psychological and social factors. For most people, sexual orientation and gender identity are shaped at any early age.
There are many questions to consider before coming out.
Are you comfortable with your sexuality and gender identity/expression?
Do you have support?
Can you be patient?
What kind of views do your friends and family have about LGBTQIA people?
Are you financially dependent on your family?
Make sure you have thought your decision through, have a plan and supportive people you can turn to. Just as you needed to experience different stages of acceptance for yourself, family and loved ones may need to go through a similar process.
PFLAG was founded because of the unconditional love of parents for their children. Your loved ones will need time to adjust to your news, the same way you may have needed time to come to terms with yourself. However, true acceptance is possible and happens every day, especially with education and support.
Today's youth face more social pressures than ever, especially since young people are coming out at increasingly younger ages.That's why PFLAG created Be Yourself: Questions and Answers for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth a coming-out guide which provides a supportive approach to common questions asked by teens who may be questioning their sexual orientation. It also provides hotline numbers for teens and a list of resources. Also consider talking to someone from PFLAG Greensboro for more personalized tips and support.
Yes! LGBTQ people can and do have families.
LGBTQIA couples do form committed and loving relationships. More and more LGBTQIA couples are getting married and are also raising children together, although state laws on adoption and foster parenting vary. And of course, many LGBTQIA people have the support of the loving families they were born into, or the families that they have created with their other friends and loved ones.
As the saying goes, all it takes is love to make a family.
This is a difficult question for many people. Learning that a loved one is LGBTQIA can be a challenge if you feel it is at odds with your faith tradition.
However, being LGBTQIA does not impact a person's ability to be moral and spiritual any more than being heterosexual does. Many LGBTQIA people are religious and active in their own faith communities. It is up to you to explore, question and make choices in order to reconcile religion with sexuality and gender. For some this means working for change within their faith community, and for others it means leaving it.