What is LGBTQIA+? The acronym for queer community continues to evolve.

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As the queer community continues to evolve, so does the language used to describe it. (Credit: Getty images)

Once upon a time, four letters were commonly used to describe the queer community as a whole: “L” for lesbian, “G” for gay, “B” for bisexual, and “T” for trans, creating an acronym: LGBT.

But that was then, and this is now. What new terminologies, identities and experiences appear In the zeitgeist, the acronym has since acquired a few more letters: “Q” for queer and/or questioning, “I” for intersex, and “A” for asexual, creating the widely used acronym: “LGBTQIA+” – with that “+ “in the end meant to cover anyone who feels their queer identity was not otherwise represented.

Alphabet soup can be too much for some (including Lea DeLaria, who is make fun in the past about the growing acronym), with some preferring to stick with “LGBTQ” or “LGBTQ+” or even just “queer” (DeLaria’s Choice). But there is a reason and a story behind its existence.

Before the acronym arose, people often simply said “the gay community” or “the gay and lesbian community,” leaving out bisexual people, who make up the majority of the LGBTQIA+ population as a whole, and transgender people, a group largely credited with spearheading the queer rights movement to get started. Sometime in the 1970s, queer activists popularized the use of the acronym “LGB” as a way to show unity. The “T” was added later, in the 1990s, with the intention of being a further step towards inclusion.

More recently, the letter “Q” was added as a way to recognize those exploring their gender or sexual identity, or those who do not identify with any of the first four letters, preferring “queer”.

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Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of JOYthe world’s largest media advocacy organization for LGBTQ rights (the acronym used by GLAAD), tells Yahoo Life that the acronym’s evolution stands for “growth, strength and vitality, and our future” from the community, adding that as more people with different experiences and backgrounds come out, now including those who identify with a variety of terms, including nonbinary and xenogender — in record numbers, it’s important to see that reflected in changing terms and acronyms.

A person holds a sign that says

The LGBTQIA+ acronym, seen on a sign here in Paris earlier this month, has become a global reference. (Photo: Adrien Fillon/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Whichever acronym is used, it is important to know the basics of these terms in order to understand the complexities of the queer experience. Here’s a quick overview:

  • lesbian: A woman who is physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to other women.

  • Homosexual: A word that describes a person who is physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to people of the same sex or gender.

  • Bisexual (also Bi or Bi+): A person with the capacity to be physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to more than one gender, though not necessarily at the same time or to the same degree.

  • Transgender: A people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to them at birth. They may also use terms other than transgender to describe their gender more specifically, such as non-binary or gender non-conforming. (Others can be found at GLAAD’s transgender glossary.)

  • Queer: Often embraced by younger generations, “queer” is used to describe an identity that is not straight or exclusive to one particular thing. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or anything else may also embrace the label “queer,” as more unique labels can be perceived as too limiting.

  • Interrogation: A word used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

  • Intersex: A person with one or more innate sexual characteristics, such as genitalia, internal reproductive organs, and chromosomes, that fall outside traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. Your male or female gender identity is generally assigned at birth by medical providers and/or parents. Sometimes, controversiallythat decision involves the surgical alteration of the genitalia to match this decision.

  • Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction. Sometimes abbreviated as “as”, it is also a generic term that can include other identities such as demisexualwhich refers to those who do not experience sexual attraction to others unless they first form a strong emotional bond with them.

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Definitions aside, it’s important to understand that each term can mean something different to different people, based on their own lived experiences.

Bottom line? There is no one way to be L, G, B, T, Q, I, or A. The important thing, however, Ellis explains, is to know the language first, to recognize and celebrate differences. Asking people how they describe themselves (including what their pronouns are) is just as important.

during a time when the queer community is under constant attack from state legislators across the country, Ellis says it has never been more vital for the country to learn about the importance of language and unity.

“LGBTQ[IA+] the people are part of the most diverse community in the world, representing different sexual orientations and genders, as well as all races, religions and from all regions,” she says. “The language indicates solidarity, within the community and to everyone outside of it, that we are different and remain united in our fight for freedom and equality for all.”

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