Pride Month is officially upon us, and with everything going on in Orlando right now, Pride Month could not be more important. Now, more than ever, we need to listen to the voices of the LGBT people and take note of what they have to say. That includes knowing about LGBT history, LGBT current events, and even just what some of the subcultures in the LGBT community even are. Here are 20 things everyone should know about the LGBT community, that will allow you to better understand a community that has to deal with a lot, both on an individual and a societal level.
20. Actually know what LGBT means
Honestly, this is one of those things that should be common sense, but this is also one of those things that a lot of people genuinely do not know. LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender; four of the biggest groups in the LGBT community. However, those communities are by no means the only four groups in the LGBT community. There are actually more acronyms for LGBT than just the one, and some of them are:
LGBTQ: The Q stands for Queer, which can mean a lot of things in the community at large, but in the interest of simplicity, the word stands for any sexuality that may or may not fall under the last four letters. The Q can also stand for Questioning, which includes those who are questioning their own sexual or gender orientation, who have their own place in the community.
LGBTQIA: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual. No, that A does not mean Allies.
LGBTTQQIAAP: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, Pansexual. This acronym includes Questioning and Queer with their own separate letters and gives the allies a place in the big letter party, but it’s been criticized for being too confusing and for erasing other communities in favor of the straight ally.
QUILTBAG: Queer and questioning, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender and two-spirit, Bisexual, Asexual and ally, and Gay and genderqueer.
There are even more, but these are just a few that you might see out in the world this month.
19. Actually know about other orientations
You might have thought that all of those letters is just a case of over-labeling, but you would not be more wrong if you tried. Not only is every single letter in the former collection of acronyms representative of a living, breathing community with their own issues and culture, each community is deserving of recognition. Here are just a few that are worth mentioning.
Pansexual: Pansexuality can be considered an offshoot of bisexuality or a sexual orientation in its own right. Basically, a pansexual person is a person who can be attracted, either emotionally or sexually, to any and all genders on the gender spectrum. The term has its defenders and its critics: some people see it as more inclusive than bisexuality because it acknowledges that there are more than two genders in its very etymology, and some people see the term as blatant erasure of the bisexual community’s solidarity with the transgender community. Either way, pansexuality is part of a pretty big umbrella of sexual orientations that is attracted to more than one gender, including bisexuality.
Asexual: While pansexuality is an attraction to any gender, asexuality is the opposite: sexual attraction to no genders. Asexuality, not unlike bisexuality, has its own umbrella of sexual orientations that include a whole host of things. On top of that, just because a person is asexual doesn’t mean that they don’t engage in romantic relationships or even sex with a partner. This is one of those things that depends on the person, much like any other sexual orientation, including heterosexuality.
Queer: Depending on who you talk to, queer can be a title worn proudly or a slur, which is why it’s important to listen to LGBT people when they talk about these things, because not all of them will say the same thing.
18. It’s not just sexual identities, it’s gender identities
The trans* community is just as diverse as the LGBT community at large, and their struggles are unique to them. There’s a lot of things to talk about concerning how different people in the trans* community identify, but here are some basics:
Gender identity does not equal sexual identity. That’s important. Trans* people are just as likely to be straight as they are to be any of the sexual identities under the LGBT umbrella.
A trans* person does not have to physically transition in order to be trans*. That’s a major misconception. A person’s identity isn’t affected by what surgeries they choose to have.
Don’t ask a trans* person anything about their genitalia that you wouldn’t ask someone who isn’t trans*. That’s private, and nobody should feel obligated to talk about their genitalia to validate their gender identity.
Respect a trans* person’s pronouns. They chose those pronouns for a reason, so respect them. Also, respect whatever name a trans* person wants to be called. You wouldn’t like it if someone called you by a name that wasn’t yours and refused to listen to you, so don’t do it to another person.
Don’t make a big deal about public bathrooms. We all just want to pee in peace.
17. LGBT celebrities
Now that we’ve talked about how the LGBT community isn’t a big monolith, but rather a huge umbrella of different communities with different issues of their own, we can talk about some prominent figures in pop culture and history that are LGBT.
There are a lot of celebrities that have come out over the years, some to way more publicity than others, and here are just a few: Kristen Stewart, Vanessa Carlton, Zachary Quinto, Raven-Symoné, Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Miley Cyrus, Sarah Paulson, Amber Heard, Billie Joel Armstrong of Green Day, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Andrew Rannelis, Neil Patrick Harris, and Matt Bomer. There are way more than that, but that’s just a few names you might recognize. This isn’t even getting into LGBT fictional characters, which would take a whole different list.
16. LGBT historical figures
Let’s be real here: some of the names on this short list might be there because of pure speculation, because they were alive so long ago. However, here is a short list of LGBT historical and political figures who have shaped the course of history as we know it, not just for the LGBT community, but for the world at large.
Harvey Milk: one of the first openly gay people to be elected for public office
Alexander the Great: King of Macedon in Greece and one of the most powerful military minds ever
Alan Turing: codebreaker during World War II
Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance artist and the original “Renaissance man”
Michelangelo: sculpted the statue of David and another Renaissance artist
Oscar Wilde: the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray
Gertrude Stein: poet
Leonard Matlovich: the first gay man to come out in the US military
As you can see, this is a truly diverse group of people, and today’s society owes a lot to each and every one of them, and to every LGBT person who’s made a mark on history.
15. Bisexuals/pansexuals are not “confused”
Now that we’ve talked about influential LGBT figures, we can talk about how we can be better allies and all around better people. This is one of the big stereotypes about bisexual people, and it’s actually a big reason why a lot of bisexual people feel unsafe. Not only do bisexual people have the burden of being discriminated against like the rest of the LGBT community, they have the distinction of being affected by what’s known as “bisexual erasure”, where both straight and gay people deny the existence of bisexuals at all.
Gays, bisexual people, and anyone who is attracted to more than one gender, are not confused. They’re just not. Their orientations are just as valid and worthy of acknowledgement as anyone else’s.
14. Asexual people have issues of their own
A lot of people think that asexual people don’t really have any problems, since they’re not necessarily being discriminated against in terms of the law, but they’ve got issues of their own. Critics of asexuality have called asexual people robots, and insinuated that they are sick, because if sexuality is healthy, then asexuality must surely be unhealthy. But, that is simply not the case. If we have the choice to love and/or sleep with whoever we want, asexual people have the right to say that they do not want to romantically love and/or sleep with anyone.
13. Issues the LGBT community face
Anyone who says that being gay, bisexual or trans is a choice doesn’t understand the many issues facing the LGBT community even today. Not only are LGBT people at risk of losing their jobs and housing on a whim in certain states in America, they were unable to serve in the military if they were out, and they only got the right to marry as a federal right two years ago. That’s not even considering the fact that as recently as last week, LGBT people were being murdered by the dozens in a gay bar in Orlando.
This isn’t even getting into the fraught relationship many LGBT people end up having with the church. Even putting aside such atrocities as ostracization and conversion therapies that don’t actually work, there’s the little microaggressions that go a long way towards making someone feel unsafe.
“I remember one time when I was younger I was at church and the priest was asking the parish to ask the senetor or whatever to oppose gay marriage (this was before obama and the gay marraige law). I remember crying in church because my best friend couldn’t get married. And my mom (who was alive then) was like why are you crying. and i was like why can’t matt get married? and they kept shooshing me saying they would talk after. Every time I try to talk about how i feel about girls with my dad he is like i don’t need to know or talk to your therapist about it… its frustrating. I feel like if my family was more open about it then I could be too” – AD
As far as the community has come over the decades, there is still much further to go.
12. The Stonewall riots
The Stonewall riots are an important moment in LGBT history, because it’s considered the single event that set off the modern LGBT civil rights movement. In the early morning of June 28, 1969, tensions between NYPD and LGBT citizens erupted into riots at the Stonewall Inn, and within weeks, there were full blown activist groups working to establish places that the LGBT could gather that were safe for people to be themselves and safe from police intrusion, and within a year, the first Pride marches were happening. We owe Pride Month to the rioters at the Stonewall Inn. President Obama actually made reference to this event in his second inaugural address:
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall…. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
11. Marriage equality in the USA
The battle for marriage equality has been a long one, and it culminated in a decision by the Supreme Court back in 2014. For a good look at one of the court cases that made marriage equality happen, check out the documentary The Case For 8, but for those of us who don’t have two hours to watch it, the decision involved two big cases. One involved Proposition 8, that repealed marriage equality in California and rendered thousands of marriages invalid, and the decision that sparked Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case in question. The second involved the Defense of Marriage Act, which “defines marriage” as a primarily heterosexual affair.
One major thing here: call it marriage equality, not “gay marriage.” Way more people are affected by marriage equality than just gay people.
10. Don’t judge anyone who’s still in the closet
This is a big one. Many people don’t come out of the closet with a bang, and that happens for a few reasons. Some people wouldn’t be safe if they were out, whether at home, at work, or elsewhere. Other people are just exceedingly private and won’t disclose their orientation unless asked. Still other people feel like their orientations are a little hard to explain and won’t go into it.
There are a ton of reasons for LGBT people staying in the closet in any capacity, and all of those reasons should be respected. Basically, don’t assume your LGBT loved one is out to the world. Also, this should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: for the love of all that is holy, do not out an LGBT person. Just don’t do it.
9. Some LGBT people are risking their lives just to hold their significant others’ hands
I asked LGBT people who were willing to share about their experiences, and one major undercurrent throughout most of their stories was the fear that they’d be attacked on the street for doing something that straight couples do without thinking. One man I spoke to put it more succinctly than I ever could:
“I would like straight people to think about when you are out somewhere and you get the feeling that you want to hold that special person’s hand you can just do it, without a second thought! I have to scan the environment to access the safety of the situation and then when I hold their hand, there is always a risk that we might be called names, or beaten or even killed. I have to basically risk my life to hold someone’s hand in public and you can just do it freely. I don’t want straight people to feel guilty about that, I just want them to be aware what we go through every day. Also, don’t take for granted the fact that you can show your affections freely and how truly special that is!” -SP
8. Flirting is just as hard for LGBT people as it is for straight people
Flirting doesn’t suddenly get any easier because you are not straight. LGBT people have the same amount of issues with it, and there’s even more issues once you put aside the fear of actually approaching an attractive person and talking to them. One woman I know put it in this way:
“Flirting with women is hard for women. Thanks to heternormativity we have to practically throw ourselves at a girl to get out of the friendzone because most of the time they just assume you’re straight and being really nice. The whole time you’re flirting you’re trying to gauge if they are attracted to you or just honestly want to know what shampoo you use. Its a careful dance being lesbian or bisexual in a heternormative world.” – CM
7. Stereotypes are not important
Seriously, if you pigeonhole your LGBT friends, family and co-workers into a stereotype, not only will they be very mad at you, but you will deserve it. One bisexual woman put this into better terms than I ever could:
“Not all gay men want to go shopping with you, not all lesbians want to help you build or fix something… Stop immediately throwing “shade” and “YASSSS” into the conversation when around gay men, and just because I’m Bi, it doesn’t mean I want to sleep with every single person I see. I know it’s hard for some straight people to understand because these stereotypes are engraved in some people’s minds from a young age, but the more you continue to spread it, the harder it is for us to break it down.” – ND
6. Tragedies are not the only time to be an ally to the LGBT community
Tragedies shouldn’t have to define any community, and they shouldn’t be the only reason people stand in solidarity with others. Politicians praying for Orlando who only show solidarity when something horrible happens aren’t being sincere, or at least they’re not being very good allies. It’s important to note that this should be something to live by if you’re an ally to just about any community. If you’re going to be an ally, actually be one.
“I’ve seen so many people recently saying how heartbroken they are and how they will stand up for the lgbt+ community whenever they can, but those same people keep their mouth shut when someone calls someone else a fag, or a dyke, or says “gays shouldn’t marry, no offense, nothin against them or anything I just don’t think marriage is for them”
Don’t support us when it’s convenient for you. When something homophobic comes out of someone’s mouth, especially someone you personally know, speak up against it.” – ND
5. Sexuality exists on a spectrum
We talked before about how gender exists on a spectrum, but it should be important to note that sexuality exists on a spectrum as well. There’s something called the Kinsey scale, which attempts to quantify the fluidity of sexuality. Basically, 0 means entirely heterosexual, 6 means entirely homosexual, and the numbers 1-5 are any levels of fluidity between those two points. That leaves room for quite a few things, even things that we might not have talked about earlier. The problem is that even that scale doesn’t really account for just how fluid the sexuality spectrum can get.
4. Gay issues and lesbian issues are different
Lesbians and gay men have issues that are important to both their communities, and those issues often don’t have anything to do with each other. Lesbian and bi women have their own crosses to bear, and they share the common burden of constantly being told that they don’t exist, or that they do exist, but as a fetish for straight men.
“Because of society’s reluctance to admit that lesbians exist, a high degree of certainty is expected before historians or biographers are allowed to use the label. Evidence that would suffice in any other situation is inadequate here… A woman who never married, who lived with another woman, whose friends were mostly women, or who moved in known lesbian or mixed gay circles, may well have been a lesbian. … But this sort of evidence is not ‘proof’. What our critics want is incontrovertible evidence of sexual activity between women. This is almost impossible to find.”
Imagine being told that your sexual orientation didn’t exist, or that it’s basically an attempt at an attention grab for a gender you’re not actually interested in. That’s what lesbian and bi women have to deal with.
3. Take an LGBT person’s word for it when it comes to their experiences
Lived experience can be the best teacher, and it’s the same when you are dealing with the experiences of any minority group. When an LGBT person talks about their experiences, they could very well be sharing intimate and private experiences, and the best thing anyone can do is listen to them. That is sometimes the most important thing an ally can do: just listen and learn from those they are trying to stand with. That is why there are so many quotes from real people here: because no one should be trying to silence anyone’s voice.
2. Don’t worry so much about the labels
This is something that both the LGBT community and their allies can think about. Sometimes, navigating the community just seems like a maze of new words that’s totally unfamiliar to a person just trying to find their place in that world. On top of that, there’s always a lot of commotion from allies and those who don’t support the LGBT community that “it’s impossible to keep up” with the way the community evolves, and therefore, some of the more obscure labels aren’t valid simply because they are new.
It’s not important to “keep up.” This isn’t the Kardashian reality show: there’s no one to keep up with. Everyone’s on a different journey here, and it’s important to respect that.
1. Speak up
As much as it is important to let others speak, it is also important to speak up yourself. If you’re an ally and you hear or see someone being homophobic, biphobic or transphobic, or just being a jerk towards anyone in the LGBT community, don’t just stand there and wait for someone else to speak up; you should be the one to speak up. If it’s safe for you to speak up for yourself or for others, you should definitely do that. Solidarity isn’t always quiet. Sometimes it involves taking up your signs and marching, much like the LGBT community does during Pride.