LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

If you are comfortable with the basics of LGBTQ, here are some other terms you may not be familiar with. As with all terms related to sexual orientation and gender identity, individuals choose the terms that make sense to them personally. Also, these terms may change over time. Rather than getting stressed out over memorizing them all, remember you can come back to this page as a reference. Furthermore, it is always best to ask how someone identifies rather than make assumptions.

While you probably don’t want to open a conversation with “How are you today, and what’s your sexual orientation?,” it is acceptable to considerately ask for clarification in context. For example, if you see someone with a rainbow button on their backpack it would be acceptable to ask something like, “Do you identify as LGBTQ, or are you an ally?” If a female coworker has a picture on her desk with another woman, you could ask “Is that your girlfriend/partner?”

Note that if you ask a queer person a personal question in a group, they may not feel safe answering. Unless the person has told you they are “out” in all aspects of their life, it is best to ask these questions in private.

On this page you will find explanations of:


A straight (heterosexual) person who is supportive of the LGBTQIA community. An ally will speak up if they witness bullying or heterosexist language. Allies may also display a Safe Space sticker, have anti-bullying posters in the classroom, wear a rainbow pin, attend LGBTQIA events, etc.

It can mean a lot to LGBTQIA students, coworkers, and parents, to know that their teachers/coworkers are supportive allies.
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Intersex is a term to describe people born with anatomy different from what is expected of males or females. Intersex people may be given this label at birth due to noticeable physical characteristics such as a larger-than-typical clitoris for a female, or a smaller-than-typical penis for a male. But sometimes these differences aren’t visible (as with chromosomal variations), and individuals may not know they are intersex until puberty, as adults, or they may never know.

Unlike many of the other words in this list, intersex is neither a sexual orientation or a gender identity. This is because instead of describing a feeling about one’s gender or sexuality, it describes biological traits. Intersex people may identify as male, female, intersex, or none of these. Similarly, they may identify with any sexual orientation.

You may have heard the term “hermaphrodite” used to describe this group, but many intersex people consider this a derogatory and stigmatized term. It means someone has both complete male and female anatomy, which is not possible.


  • A child whose anatomy appears female, but has XY chromosomes

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Gender identity terms

People whose gender identity, expression, and behavior are the same as those typically associated with their sex assigned at birth (i.e. non-trans person).

If you are cisgender, you have cisgender privilege. This means that there are many advantages in our society if you are cisgender, such as no one questioning you when you enter a public restroom, or assuming that your doctor will know the right medical care for you. For more examples of cisgender privilege, see 30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege.
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(GQ; alternatively called non-binary) is a catch-all term for gender identities other than man or woman, and thus outside of the gender binary. People who identify as genderqueer may think of themselves as one or more of the following:

  • both man and woman (bigender, pangender)
  • neither man nor woman (genderless, agender)
  • moving between genders (genderfluid)
  • third gender or other-gendered; this includes those who do not place a name to their gender
  • having an overlap of, or blurred lines between gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation

You may also hear people use the terms gender-variant, gender-fluid, or gender nonconforming as other ways to describe people who do not feel that male or female describes them.
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Two-spirit (sometimes shown as a 2: LGBT2Q)
This is a term specific to certain Native American (in the US) and First Nations (in Canada) peoples. It means that a person has both male and female spirits. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for North American indigenous queer people. However, not all Native American and First Nations people use this term, and some may have a different word in their specific tribal language. As with all of these terms, is best to only use this one to describe another person if they have told you they identify as two-spirit.

(Information from http://www.tribal-institute.org/)
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Sexuality terms

Asexual (or aces)
Asexual people are those who do not experience sexual attraction. They are also known as “aces.” Some asexual people do have romantic relationships and partnerships even though they do not feel sexual attraction for their partner.

Just because they do not feel sexual attraction, however, does not mean they do not have a romantic orientation. Asexual people may identify as heteroromantic, for example, meaning they have romantic, non-sexual feelings for people of the opposite sex. They could also identify as homoromantic, queer, biromantic, etc. Similarly, asexual does not define their gender identity. Asexual people may be cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, etc.


  • A woman may identify as asexual homoromantic if she experiences no sexual attraction but does experience romantic attraction to other women.

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This is similar to bisexual, but indicates that the person is not tied to the labels of “man” and “woman” in who they are attracted to. The prefix “pan” means “all,” as opposed to “bi,” which means two. This term is a fluid one, and individuals may have their own definition of pansexual. Similarly, some bisexual people may also form relationships with individuals who do not identify as either men or women. For more information, visit http://bisexuality.wikia.com/wiki/Pansexuality.


  • A woman who is attracted to both cisgender men and women as well as transgender men and women

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This is similar to pansexual, and may be used by some people as an interchangeable term. The difference is that “poly” means “many,” distinguishing it from “pansexual” meaning “all sexual.” A person who identifies as polysexual will have specific preferences that will differ from person to person. As with pansexual, this term is fluid, and may be used differently by different people.


  • A man who is attracted to masculine people, whether male, female, or genderqueer
  • A woman who is attracted to women and transgender people, but not cisgender men

Note: Some people who say “I am poly” may mean they are polyamorous. This means that instead of being in a monogamous relationship with one other person, they are in committed relationships with more than one person. This is not the same as polysexual.
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Sometimes you will see an extra “Q” in LGBTQQ for questioning. This means an individual who is still figuring out their sexual orientation. They could be any age, as some people start to question their sexuality as children, teens, or adults.


  • Perhaps a teenager has crushes on boys and girls, but is unsure if their crush means an emotional attachment, romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or all three.

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The Genderbread Person

This model explains the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and attraction. All of these forms of identity are also shown on spectrums. While it is not all-encompassing, it is an excellent tool for understanding the complexities and possibilities of these identities. For a review of these terms, go to our Sex and Gender and The basic LGBTQ acronym pages.