Sexual & Gender Diversity
LGBTQ*, LGBTQ +, GLBT, LGBTTQ and LGBTQ2 are acronyms that refer to the spectrum of sexual and gender identities, including 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’.
When we talk about sexual orientation and gender identity, it’s important to understand the terms below:
- Biological Sex: The biological characteristics that identify humans as female or male at birth. These biological features don’t limit a person to being male or female, as there are people who have both features.
- 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.
Sexuality is an important and central part of every human being. Heterosexual and cisgender identities are often considered ‘normal’ and the only identities valued in our society. Many people use words that assume everyone is heterosexual and cisgender (heteronormative language). An example of this would be using ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ instead of ‘partner’ without realizing it excludes sexual and gender minorities. You can’t assume someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity by looking at them.
Many sexual and gender minority youth 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 young people from publicly identifying as a sexual or gender minority. Supportive families, schools and communities have a vital role helping LGBTQ+ children do well in school and in life. Alberta Education released guidelines for school boards to create policies and practices to support LGBTQ+ students, staff and families.
What Teachers Can Do
Teachers play an important role in helping students develop and show respect for sexual and gender diversity. Here are some things you can do to support your LGBTQ+ students, families and colleagues:
- Reflect on your practices and beliefs. Look at your own actions and behaviour. It may help to think about your personal values, beliefs and biases before talking about sexual and gender diversity with your students (see the Your Values page).
- Educate yourself and others. It’s important to educate yourself about sexual and gender diversity. There are some great online resources (see below). Think about what you can do to challenge the norm that only heterosexual and cisgender identities are normal.
- Be a role model and set a positive example for those around you. Don’t use anti-LGBTQ+ language and slurs. Don’t laugh at jokes that make fun of person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Use gender inclusive language and don’t make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Create a positive environment. Use inclusive graphics, posters and images such as safe space materials. Make sure that documents, forms and processes are respectful and inclusive of diversity. If possible, provide gender-neutral bathrooms.
- Be supportive. Be respectful, open and non-judgemental. Listen to people who ‘come out’ to or confide in you. Keep your conversations confidential—you never want to ‘out’ a person. If you make a mistake, say sorry.
- Support GSAs/QSAs, and inclusion initiatives and events.
- Identify and address inappropriate behaviour such as teasing, bullying and harassment.
- Get support. Find resources and supports that may help students, colleagues and staff
- Think about integrating LGBTQ+ literature into your school library or repertoire of required readings.
- Be an ally. An ally is a person who advocates for the human, civil and sexual rights of sexual and gender minorities. The above steps are all things you can do to be an ally for your LGBTQ+ students and colleagues. Remember, even the smallest actions can bring about changes.
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.
The Every Body Tool is a great resource for the classroom.
For more information about sexual and gender diversity, see Additional Resources.