Sexual and Gender Diversity
Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Alberta is a diverse community. Diversity can mean many things to each of us, but each definition should reflect the ability to accept and celebrate each other. Diversity is all the ways we are different from each other. It includes things like race, religion, culture, physical ability, mental ability, family composition, socio-economic status and sexual and gender diversity.
When we talk about sexual and gender diversity, it is important to understand the following terms:
- Sex: the biological characteristics that deﬁne humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females.
- Sexual Orientation: a person’s affection and sexual attraction to other people. It can be fluid and may or may not reflect sexual behaviours.
- Gender/Gender Identity: a person’s internal sense of identity as female, male, both or neither, regardless of their sex assigned at birth.
- Gender Expression: how a person presents their gender. This can include appearance, name, and pronoun.
- Cisgender: a cisgender person’s identity lines up with the cultural expectations of the sex assigned at birth.
LGBTQ*, LGBTQ +, GLBT and LGBTTQ are acronyms that refer to the spectrum of sexual and gender identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual. The asterisk (*) or plus sign (+) shows there are other identities included that aren’t in the acronym. These acronyms mean the same as ‘sexual and gender minorities’.
Heterosexual and cisgender identities are often considered ‘normal’ in our society. Many people use words that assumes everyone is heterosexual and cisgender, called heteronormative language. An example of this would be using the terms boyfriend or girlfriend instead of partner without realizing it excludes sexual and gender minorities. It is important to recognize that you cannot assume someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity by looking at them.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are complex and very difficult to quantify. It is suggested that anywhere from 2-10% of Canadians identify as LGBTQ +. It is important to read these numbers with caution since they categorize people without truly capturing the complexity of how people self-identify.
Sexuality is an essential and natural characteristic of all people that begins in early childhood. Many sexual and gender minority youth have unique challenges they must face throughout their lives. Fear about how family and friends may react as well as fear of bullying, harassment, discrimination and prejudice may stop youth from publicly identifying as a sexual or gender minority. Supportive families, schools and communities are key to LGBTQ+ children and youth thriving in school and in life.
Ongoing harassment and bullying can place children and youth at risk for dropping out of school, homelessness, depression and suicide. When the entire school community (students, staff and parents) is committed to making schools safe and inclusive spaces, LGBTQ+ students can begin to feel safe and start to thrive at school.
All children have the right to feel safe and included in their community. If your child is the target of bullying they should:
- tell someone they trust
- document what is going on (e.g., keep a record of each incident, keep examples of online bullying)
- stay safe and not fight back
- find support with the school or broader community (e.g., join a GSA/QSA)
- know their rights as a member of the community (e.g., check out school anti-harassment policies and student code of conduct)
For more detailed tips for students, see:
What Parents Can Do
Parents can be allies in ensuring healthy development and resiliency of LGBTQ+ youth. Parents can help their children learn techniques to recognize and challenge stigma, discrimination and bullying, and develop coping strategies. Visit our bullying section for more information and how you can support your child.
Tips for Parents:
- Educate yourself. It is important to educate yourself about the topic of sexual and gender diversity. There are some great online resources (see below) that you may find helpful. Also, be aware that heterosexual and cisgender identities are often times considered ‘normal’ in our society. Think about what you can do to challenge the norm.
- Be a role model and set a positive example for those around you. Reflect on your use of anti-LGBTQ+ language and slurs and stop using them. Don’t laugh at jokes making fun of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Use gender inclusive language and do not make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Be supportive and respond in a positive way. If your child has ‘come out’ to you, this has taken tremendous courage and speaks to you as an approachable parent. Remember, it is not a lifestyle choice so counseling or attempting to ‘change’ sexual orientation or identity will not be effective. Be respectful, open and non-judgemental. Keep your conversations confidential. If you make a mistake, say sorry and move forward. After all, we are all human.
- Take action. Identify and address inappropriate behaviour or actions targeted at your child. Talk to your school administration if your child is being bullied or harassed.
- Seek support. Seek out resources and supports that may assist your child. When your child is accessing support from the school or community agencies, offer to go with them so they do not feel alone.
- Get involved. Advocate for the human and civil rights for each and every person. LGBTQ+ rights affect everyone. Stand beside your LGBTQ+ child.
- Be an ally. An ally is a person who advocates for the human, civil and sexual rights of sexual and gender minorities. Taking the steps mentioned above are all things you can do to be an ally for your LGBTQ+ child. Let your child choose how you can be an ally. Remember, even the smallest actions can bring about changes.
Heterosexism, Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia in Schools
Gay-Straight/Queer-Straight Alliances (GSAs/QSAs)
Many sexual and gender minority youth are thriving in their school environments and are proud of who they are. Youth are able to build positive and productive coping strategies, be role models and sources of support for other LGBTQ+ students.
GSAs/QSAs are student groups found in some K-12 schools. These groups create supportive and safe environments for sexual and gender minorities and their allies. Schools that choose to start a GSA/QSA:
- are looking for ways to create a safer school space
- reduce bullying
- support human rights and social justice related to sexual orientation and gender diversity
- guarantee the right for students to start the group in their school, have regular meetings in a safe space, have an adult supervisor/sponsor and name the club
Click here to read more about the positive impacts of GSAs and QSAs.
If your child wants to start a GSA/QSA, they can take the following steps:
- find a teacher or staff sponsor
- meet with the school administration
- find other students who may want to help start up the group
- pick a meeting space
- advertise the group
- plan a first meeting
- hold that meeting
- set up ground rules/group agreements
- plan for the future
For more detailed tips for starting GSAs/QSAs, see:
- Setting-up a GSA: Information for Students
- 10 steps to creating a gay-straight alliance (GSA) in your school
- Creating welcoming, caring, respectful & safe learning environments: Gay-straight or queer-straight alliances in schools
Below is a list of common terms and definitions as they relate to sexual and gender diversity. It is important to avoid using these terms as labels.
Ally: A person who advocates for the human, civil and sexual rights of sexual and gender minorities.
Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction, and may or may not experience emotional/romantic attraction.
Bisexual: A person who is attracted physically and emotionally to both males and females.
Cisgender: A person whose identity conforms to the cultural expectations of the sex assigned at birth.
Coming Out: Often refers to ‘coming out of the closet’ –the act of disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gay: A person who is physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same sex or gender. The word gay can refer to both male and females. This term is most often used for a male who is attracted to males.
Gender Binary: This is the classification of sex and gender into 2 distinct and disconnected states of masculine and feminine. It describes a social boundary that discourages people from crossing or mixing gender roles.
Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS): Many transgender people prefer this term to the older term, Sex Reassignment Surgery. Sometimes Gender Affirming Surgery is also used. This term refers to doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition or expression of gender. Many transgender people do not undergo surgery for a variety of very personal and private reasons. It is considered extremely inappropriate to ask a transgender person about what surgical or other medical procedures they may or may not have undergone.
Gender Expression: How a person publicly expresses and presents their gender. This can include appearance, name, pronoun and social behaviour.
Gender/Gender Identity: A person’s internal sense of being male, female, both or neither, regardless of sex assigned at birth.
Genderqueer: People who self-identify their gender to be neither that of a male or female, but outside the gender binary.
Gender Variant: People whose expressions of gender do not conform to the dominant gender norms of masculinity and femininity.
GSA/QSA (Gay-Straight/Queer-Straight Alliance): Student groups found in some K-12 schools. These groups create supportive and safe environments for sexual and gender minorities and their allies.
Heteronormative Language: Language that assumes everyone is heterosexual and cisgender, e.g., using the terms boyfriend or girlfriend instead of partner, or using mother and father instead of parent
Heterosexism: Discrimination based on the assumption that all people are heterosexual and cisgender and that these are the normal and/or superior sexual orientation and gender identity. Heterosexism is often expressed in more subtle forms than homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
Heterosexual (Straight): A person who is attracted physically and emotionally to someone of the opposite sex or gender.
Homo/Bi/Trans Phobia: Fear and/or hatred of people who are gay, bisexual or transgender and is often shown through prejudice, discrimination, intimidation or acts of violence.
Homosexual: An outdated and offensive term for a person who has emotional and/or sexual attraction to people of the same sex.
Inclusive Language: The use of language that is not specific to gender (e.g., the word partner is used instead of boyfriend or girlfriend, the word parent is used instead of mom or dad, the pronoun ‘they’ is used instead of ‘he/she’) to show consideration to people of sexual and gender minorities.
Internalized Homophobia: A diminished sense of personal self-worth or esteem felt by a person as a result of the experienced or presumed homophobia of others.
Intersex: A term used for a variety of conditions where a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.
Lesbian: A female who is attracted physically and emotionally to other females.
LGBTQ*/ LGBTQ+/ GLBT/ LGBTTQQIA: Acronyms that refer to the collection of sexual and gender identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual. The asterisk (*) or plus sign (+) show that there are other identities included that aren’t in the acronym. These acronyms mean the same as ‘sexual and gender minorities’.
Outing: Publicly disclosing another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s permission or knowledge. This may be harmful to a child or teen if they come from a non-supportive home environment.
Queer: A reclaimed term used by some people who identify as a sexual minority and also used as a positive collective term to describe communities and social movements.
Questioning: A person who is unsure of, or exploring, their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sexual Orientation: A person’s affection for and sexual attraction to other people.
They/Them: A non-gendered, singular or plural personal pronoun.
Transgender: A person whose self-identified gender identity, outward appearance, expression and/or anatomy doesn’t fit into conventional expectations with the sex assigned at birth.
Transition: A process of change from sex assigned at birth to one’s self-identified gender. This may include physical, legal and social changes.
Transsexual: A transgender person expressing their self-identified gender through transition which could include medical or surgical intervention.
Two-Spirit: A cultural term used by some Indigenous people to mean a person has both a male and female spirit which may include concepts of spirituality, sexual orientation and gender identity.