Sexual & Gender Diversity
Alberta is a diverse community. Diversity can mean many things to each of us. It’s important that each definition reflect the ability to accept and celebrate each other. Diversity is all the ways we’re different from each other. It includes things like race, religion, culture, physical ability, mental ability, family make-up, socio-economic status and sexual and gender diversity.
When we talk about sexual and gender diversity, it’s important to understand the these terms:
- Sex: Categories (male, female) to which people are typically assigned at birth based on physical characteristics (e.g. genitals). Some people may be assigned intersex, when their reproductive, sexual or genetic biology doesn’t fit the traditional definitions of male or female.
- Sexual Orientation: A person’s emotional and sexual attraction to others. It can change and may or may not be the same as a person’s sexual behaviour.
- Gender/Gender Identity: A person’s internal sense of identity as female, male, both or neither, regardless of their biological sex.
- Gender Expression: How a person expresses their gender. This can include how they look, the name they choose, the pronoun they use (e.g., he, she, zie, zim) and their social behaviour.
- Cisgender: a person whose sense of identity and gender matches their biological sex.
To see the ‘Every Body’ tool, click here.
The acronyms LGBTQ*, LGBTQ +, GLBT and LGBTTQ refer to the spectrum of sexual and gender identities. They include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, 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 ‘normal’ in our society. It’s common to use words that assumes everyone is heterosexual and cisgender ( heteronormative language). An example of this would be using the terms boyfriend or girlfriend instead of partner. People often don’t realize that it excludes sexual and gender minorities. It’s important to recognize that you can’t assume someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity by looking at them.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are complicated. It’s believed that as many as 1 in 10 Canadians identify as LGBTQ+. It’s important to read these numbers with caution since they categorize people without taking into account how complicated self-identify really is.
Sexuality is an essential and natural characteristic of all people that begins in early childhood. Many sexual and gender minority children and teens face challenges throughout their lives. Fear about how family and friends may react as well as fear of bullying, harassment, discrimination and prejudice may stop them from publicly identifying as a sexual or gender minority. Supportive families, schools and communities are important if LGBTQ+ children and teens are to do well in school and in life.
Ongoing harassment and bullying can put children and teens 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 feel safe and 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
- keep a record of what’s 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 making sure their LGBTQ+ child grows up healthy and strong. Parents can help their children learn to recognize stigma, discrimination and bullying. More important, they can help their children learn ways to cope. To learn more, see Bullying.
Tips for Parents:
- Educate yourself. It’s important to educate yourself about sexual and gender diversity. There are some great online resources (see below) that you may find helpful. Remember that heterosexual and cisgender identities are often times thought of as ‘normal’ in our society. Think about what you can do to challenge this norm.
- Be a role model and set a positive example for those around you. If you use anti-LGBTQ+ language and slurs, stop. Don’t laugh at jokes making fun of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Use gender inclusive language and don’t assume someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Be supportive and respond in a positive way. It takes a lot of courage for a child to ‘come out’. If your child ‘comes out’ to you, it speaks to you as an approachable parent. Remember, it’s not a lifestyle choice. This means that counselling or trying to ‘change’ sexual orientation or identity will not work! Be respectful, open and non-judgmental. Keep your conversations private. If you make a mistake, say sorry and move forward. After all, we’re all human.
- Take action. Identify and address inappropriate behaviour or actions targeted at your child that aren’t appropriate. Talk to your school if your child’s being bullied or harassed.
- Get support. Find out what resources and support there is that may help your child. Offer to go with your child so they don’t feel alone.
- Get involved. Advocate for the human and civil rights for everyone. LGBTQ+ rights affect us all. Stand by your LGBTQ+ child.
- Be an ally. An ally is a person who promotes or supports the human, civil and sexual rights of sexual and gender minorities. All the points above are things you can do to be an ally for your LGBTQ+ child. Let your child tell you how you can be an ally for them. 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 children do well in their school environments and are proud of who they are. They 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 supporters. 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
To read more, see Positive Impacts of GSAs/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 and hold a first meeting
- set up ground rules/group agreements
- plan for the future
For more information on GSAs/QSAs, see the Additional Resources page.
Words You May Hear
Below is a list of common terms and definitions you may hear related to sexual and gender diversity. These terms are NOT labels.
Ally: A person who promotes and supports the human, civil and sexual rights of sexual and gender minorities.
Asexual: A person who doesn’t feel sexual attraction. They may or may not feel emotional/romantic attraction.
Bisexual: A person who’s attracted physically and emotionally to both males and females.
Cisgender: A person whose sense of identity and gender matches their biological sex.
Coming Out: Telling people about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Also known as ‘coming out of the closet’.
Gay: A person who’s physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same sex or gender. While it refers to both male and females, it’s usually used for a male who’s attracted to males.
Gender Binary: This is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct and separate states of masculine and feminine. It’s 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 This surgery is only a small part of the transition or expression of gender. Many transgender people don’t have surgery for all kinds of reasons. It’s inappropriate to ask a transgender person about what surgical or medical procedures they are planning or have undergone.
Gender Expression: How a person expresses their gender. This can include how they look, the name they choose, the pronoun they use (e.g., he, she, zie, zim) and their social behaviour.
Gender/Gender Identity: A person’s internal sense of identity as female, male, both or neither, regardless of their biological sex.
Genderqueer: People who identify their gender to be neither male or female, but outside the gender binary.
Gender Variant: People whose expressions of gender don’t conform to the more commonly accepted 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 supporters.
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 belief that all people are heterosexual and cisgender. Believe that these are the normal and/or superior sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s often shown in more subtle ways than homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
Heterosexual (Straight): A person who’s 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. Often shown through prejudice, discrimination, intimidation or acts of violence.
Homosexual: An outdated and offensive term for a person who has an emotional and/or sexual attraction to people of the same sex.
Inclusive Language: Language that’s not specific to gender (e.g., ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, ‘parent’ instead of ‘mom’ or ‘dad’, the pronoun ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’).
Internalized Homophobia: When a person feels they’re ‘less than’ as a result of the experienced or presumed homophobia of others.
Intersex: A term used for conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the usual definitions of female or male.
Lesbian: A female who’s 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, transgender, 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: Making another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity public without that person’s permission or knowledge. This can 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. It’s also used as a positive collective term to describe communities and social movements.
Questioning: A person who’s not sure of, or is 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, how they look and express themselves and/or their anatomy doesn’t fit into the usual expectations of their biological sex.
Transition: A process of change from biological sex to one’s self-identified gender. This may include physical, legal and social changes.
Transsexual: A transgender person who expresses 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. It may include concepts of spirituality, sexual orientation and gender identity.