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LGBT is an initialism that collectively refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. In use since the 1990s, the term LGBT is an adaptation of the initialism LGB, which itself started replacing the phrase gay community beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s, which many within the community in question felt did not accurately represent all those to whom it referred. The initialism has become mainstream as a self-designation and has been adopted by the majority of sexuality and gender identity-based community centers and media in the United States and some other English-speaking countries.
The term LGBT is intended to emphasize a diversity of sexuality and gender identity-based cultures and is sometimes used to refer to anyone who is non-heterosexual or non-cisgender instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. To recognize this inclusion, a popular variant adds the letter Q for those who identify as queer and/or are questioning their sexual identity as LGBTQ, recorded since 1996.
On the one hand, some intersex people who want to be included in LGBT groups suggest an extended initialism LGBTI (recorded since 1999). This initialism "LGBTI" is used in all parts of "The Activist's Guide" of the Yogyakarta Principles in Action. Furthermore, the initialism LGBTIH has seen use in India to encompass the hijra third gender identity and the related subculture. More recently the catch-all term "Gender and Sexual Diversity" GSD has been proposed.
Whether or not LGBT people actually openly identify themselves as being so may depend on whether the environment one lives in is discriminatory or not, as well as the status of LGBT rights where one lives.
Before the sexual revolution of the 1960s, there was no common non-derogatory vocabulary for non-heterosexuality; the closest such term, "third gender", traces back to the 1860s but never gained wide acceptance in the United States.
The first widely used term, homosexual, was thought to carry negative connotations and tended to be replaced by homophile in the 1950s and 1960s, and subsequently gay in the 1970s. As lesbians forged more public identities, the phrase "gay and lesbian" became more common. The Daughters of Bilitis folded in 1970 over which direction to focus on: feminism or gay rights issues. As equality was a priority for lesbian feminists, disparity of roles between men and women or butch and femme were viewed as patriarchal. Lesbian feminists eschewed gender role play that had been pervasive in bars, as well as the perceived chauvinism of gay men; many lesbian feminists refused to work with gay men, or take up their causes. Lesbians who held a more essentialist view that they had been born homosexual and used the descriptor "lesbian" to define sexual attraction, often considered the separatist, angry opinions of lesbian-feminists to be detrimental to the cause of gay rights. This was soon followed by bisexual and transgender people also seeking recognition as legitimate categories within the larger community. After the initial euphoria of the Stonewall riots wore off, starting in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, there was a change in perception; some gays and lesbians became less accepting of bisexual or transgender people. It was thought that transgender people were acting out stereotypes and bisexuals were simply gay men or lesbian women who were afraid to come out and be honest about their identity. Each community that is collectively included has struggled to develop its own identity including whether, and how, to align with other gender and sexuality-based communities at times excluding other subgroups; these conflicts continue to this day.
The initialism LGBT saw occasional use in the United States from about 1988. Not until the 1990s did it become common to speak of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people with equal respect within the movement. Although the LGBT community has seen much controversy regarding universal acceptance of different member groups (bisexual and transgender individuals, in particular, have sometimes been marginalized by the larger LGBT community), the term LGBT has been a positive symbol of inclusion. Despite the fact that LGBT does not nominally encompass all individuals in smaller communities (see Variants below), the term is generally accepted to include those not identified in the four-letter acronym. Overall, the use of the term LGBT has, over time, largely aided in bringing otherwise marginalized individuals into the general community.
Many variants exist including variations that merely change the order of the letters; LGBT or GLBT are the most common terms and the ones most frequently seen in current usage. Although identical in meaning, "LGBT" may have a more feminist connotation than "GLBT" as it places the "L" (for "lesbian") first. When not inclusive of transgender people it is sometimes shortened to LGB. LGBT may also include additional "Q"s for "queer" or "questioning" (sometimes abbreviated with a question mark and sometimes used to mean anybody not literally L, G, B or T) which can then look like e.g., "LGBTQ" or "LGBTQQ"".
Other variants may add a "U" for "unsure"; a "C" for "curious"; an "I" for "intersex"; another "T" for "transsexual" or "transvestite"; another "T", "TS", or "2" for "Two‐Spirit" persons; an "A" or "SA" for "straight allies"; or an "A" for "asexual". Some may also add a "P" for "pansexual" or "polyamorous", an "H" for "HIV-affected", and/or an "O" for "other".
The order of the letters has not been standardized; in addition to the variations between the positions of the initial "L" or "G", the mentioned, less‐common letters, if used, may appear in almost any order. Variant terms do not typically represent political differences within the community, but arise simply from the preferences of individuals and groups. The terms pansexual, omnisexual, fluid and queer-identified are regarded as falling under the umbrella term "bisexual". Likewise, 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).
"SGL" (i.e. "same gender loving") is sometimes favored among black Americans as a way of distinguishing themselves from what they regard as white-dominated LGBT communities. "MSM" (er.g. "men who have sex with men") is clinically used to describe men who have sex with other men without referring to their sexual orientation.
A phrase introduced in the 2000s, "minority sexual and gender identities" ("MSGI"), as well as the similar "gender and sexual minorities" ("GSM"), used to include all letters and acronyms, has yet to find its way into common usage. The magazine Anything That Moves coined the acronym FABGLITTER (from Fetish such as the BDSM lifestyle community, Allies or poly-Amorous as in Polyamorous couples became more used, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed, Transgender, Transsexual Engendering Revolution or inter-Racial attraction), although this term has not made its way into common usage. Another acronym that has begun to spread is QUILTBAG, from Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay. Again, this is not a common term. Similarly, in some areas people are starting to simply use 'LGBTQetc' or 'LGBTQ+' to include everyone. The initial A for Allies comes from straight (heterosexual) allies who are in support of the GLBT community, and sometimes they form an alliance in sociopolitical affairs to further represent the umbrella term GLBTA (Gay Lesbian Bi Trans Alternative or Allies). The A may also be used to represent asexual people. LGBTQIA has some use among transgender American college students and their contemporaries.
The terms LGBT or GLBT are not agreeable to everyone that they literally encompass. For example, some argue that transgender and transsexual causes are not the same as that of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people. This argument centers on the idea that transgender and transsexuality have to do with gender identity or a person's understanding of being or not being male and/or female irrespective of their sexual orientation. LGB issues can be seen as a matter of sexual orientation or attraction. These distinctions have been made in the context of political action in which LGB goals may be perceived to differ from transgender and transsexual goals like same‐sex marriage legislation and human rights work that is not inclusive of transgender and intersex people. Similarly, some intersex people want to be included in LGBT groups and would prefer the term "LGBTI" while others insist that they are not a part of the LGBT community and would rather that they not be included as part of the term.
A reverse to the above situations is evident in the belief of "lesbian & gay separatism" (not to be confused with the related "lesbian separatism"), which holds that lesbians and gay men form (or should form) a community distinct and separate from other groups normally included in the LGBTQ sphere. While not always appearing of sufficient number or organization to be called a movement, separatists are a significant, vocal, and active element within many parts of the LGBT community. In some cases separatists will deny the existence or right‐to‐equality of non‐monosexual orientations and of transsexuality. This can extend to public biphobia and transphobia. In contrasts to separatists, Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage! argues that to separate the transgender movement from the LGB would be "political madness".
Many people have looked for a generic term to replace the numerous existing abbreviations. 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 and such (negative) usage of the term continues. Many younger people also understand "queer" to be more politically‐charged than "LGBT". "Rainbow" has connotations that recall hippies, New Age movements, and organizations like Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in the United States.
The portrayal of an all-encompassing "LGBT community" or "LGB community" is also disliked by some lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Some do not subscribe to or approve of the political and social solidarity, and visibility and human rights campaigning that normally goes with it including gay pride marches and events. Some of them believe that grouping together people with non-heterosexual orientations perpetuates the myth that being gay/lesbian/bi makes a person deficiently different from other people. These people are often less visible compared to more mainstream gay or LGBT activists. Since this faction is difficult to distinguish from the heterosexual majority, it is common for people to assume all LGBT people support LGBT liberation and the visibility of LGBT people in society, including the right to live one's life in a different way from the majority. In the 1996 book Anti-Gay, a collection of essays edited by Mark Simpson, the concept of a 'one-size-fits-all' identity based on LGBT stereotypes is criticized for suppressing the individuality of LGBT people.
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- American Psychological Association's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office