LGBTQ+ FAQs

What does “LGBTQ+” mean?
LGBT stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning or queer.” While these terms have increasing global resonance, in different cultures other terms may be used to describe people who form same-sex relationships and those who exhibit non-binary gender identities (such as hijra, meti, lala, skesana, motsoalle, mithli, kuchu, kawein, travesty, muxé, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, hamjensgara and Two-Spirit). In a human rights context, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face both common and distinct challenges. Intersex people (those born with atypical sex characteristics) suffer many of the same kinds of human rights violations as LGBTQA+ people, as indicated below.

Why are people gay?
The following is excerpted from the American Psychological Association's 2008 publication titledAnswers to your questions for a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality:
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.

What is “sexual orientation”?
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Everyone has a sexual orientation, which is integral to a person’s identity. Gay men and lesbian women are attracted to individuals of the same sex as themselves. Heterosexual people (sometimes known as “straight”) are attracted to individuals of a different sex from themselves. Bisexual people may be attracted to individuals of the same or different sex. Sexual orientation is not related to gender identity.

What is “gender identity”?
Gender identity reflects a deeply felt and experienced sense of one’s own gender. A person’s gender identity is typically consistent with the sex assigned to them at birth. For transgender people, there is an inconsistency between their sense of their own gender and the sex they were assigned at birth. In some cases, their appearance and mannerisms and other outwards characteristics may conflict with society’s expectations of gender-normative behaviour.

What does transgender mean?
Transgender (sometimes shortened to “trans”) is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of identities —including transsexual people, cross-dressers (sometimes referred to as “transvestites”), people who identify as third gender, and others whose appearance and characteristics are perceived as gender atypical. Transwomen identify as women but were classified as males when they were born. Transmen identify as men but were classified female when they were born. Some transgender people seek surgery or take hormones to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity; others do not.

What is intersex?
An intersex person is born with sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical definition of male or female. This may be apparent at birth or become so later in life. An intersex person may identify as male or female or as neither. Intersex status is not about sexual orientation or gender identity: intersex people experience the same range of sexual orientations and gender identities as non-intersex people.

What is the difference between sex and gender?
Typically, people use “sex” to refer to a person's assigned sex at birth based upon physical anatomy and chromosomes. “Gender” is typically used to refer to roles, appearance, interests, and one’s psychological sense of themselves as a gendered being.  Historically, a distinction has been made between sex and gender centered on the ways in which gender is socially constructed around a designation that has been presumed to be ‘objective’ and not socially constructed. When you look closer at the realities that assigned sex at birth (i.e., sex) is socially constructed based on what is considered to be ‘normative’ anatomical and chromosomal characteristics (consider the frequency of intersex conditions; estimated at 1 in 2000), some are now calling into question this rigid distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.

How do I know what pronoun to use if I am unsure?
One may start by asking respectfully rather than guessing. One could say, “I want to be respectful. What gender pronoun do you use?" It is very important to respect each person’s self-identification. Individuals may use female pronouns, male pronouns, gender-neutral pronouns such as ze or hir, or a mix of pronouns. Never use the word "it" when referring to someone. One can also demonstrate by stating their name and pronouns when begin teaching in a course.  In one’s email signature, one may put their pronoun in so that one is role-modeling  the inclusive nature of pronouns.

What are homophobia and transphobia?
Homophobia is an irrational fear of, hatred or aversion towards lesbian, gay or bisexual people; transphobia denotes an irrational fear, hatred or aversion towards transgender people. Because the term homophobia is widely understood, it is often used in an all-encompassing way to refer to fear, hatred and aversion towards LGBTQ+ people in general.

Have LGBTQ+ people always existed?
Yes. LGBTQ+ people have always been a part of our communities. There are examples from every locality and time-period, from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature. Many societies have traditionally been open towards LGBTQ+ people, including several Asian societies that have traditionally recognized a third gender.

Is it possible to change a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity?
No. A person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity cannot be changed. What must change are the negative social attitudes that stigmatize LGBTQ+ people and contribute to violence and discrimination against them. Attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation often involve human rights violations and can cause severe trauma. Examples include forced psychiatric therapies intended to “cure” (sic) individuals of their same-sex attraction, as well as the so-called “corrective” rape of lesbians perpetrated with the declared aim of “turning them straight.”

Does being around LGBTQ+ people or having access to information on homosexuality endanger the wellbeing of children?
No. Learning about or spending time with people who are LGBTQ+ does not influence the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors nor can it harm their wellbeing. Rather, it is vital that all youth have access to age-appropriate sexuality education to ensure that they have healthy, respectful physical relationships and can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. Denial of this kind of information contributes to stigma and can cause young LGBTQ+ people to feel isolated, depressed, forcing some to drop out of school and contributing to higher rates of suicide.

Are LGBTQA+ people dangerous to children?
No. There is no link between homosexuality and child abuse of any kind. LGBTQ+ people all over the world can be good parents, teachers and role models for young people. Portraying LGBTQ+ people as “pedophiles” or dangerous to children is wholly inaccurate, offensive and a distraction from the need to for serious and appropriate measures to protect all children, including those coming to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why is “that’s so gay” so offensive if poeple do not mean anything by it?
Typically when people use this phrase, they are using “gay” as a synonym for something bad, negative, or less desirable. The use of this phrase communicates or perpetuates the prevailing societal view that being gay is less desirable and/or that you may not be supportive of LGBTQ+ people.