Educate Yourself: The Difference Between LGBTQ+ Labels


Our world loves labels. It’s how we learn about different aspects of not only our culture, but others as well. Yet labels can turn out to be harmful when used to oppress large populations, especially when we don’t understand what the terms may really mean. When I saw Twitter erupt in debate on the difference between the term queer and gay, I knew I had to do more research because I had no idea there was a difference between those words.

The debate started after Kehlani announced her pregnancy on Instagram. Kehlani has been vocal about identifying as a queer woman. It was because of this that many were confused as to how she could be pregnant.

Kehlani artfully tackled the comments and as a result of that and her pregnancy, Billboard wrote an article that included previous comments she has made about her sexuality and why she identifies as queer.

I felt gay always insisted there was still a line drawn as to which ‘label’ of human I was attracted when I really jus be walking around thinking ERRYBODY FINE.”

Based on this alone, I assumed that some may use queer as a way to say they are attracted to other people under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. That may be the case for some, or a large portion of people. But from what I’ve found, the term queer has a lot of different meanings.

The LGBTQ+ resource center, also referred to as LGBTQIA, offers a vast list of definitions to help understand each label’s meaning. Queer here is defined as a radical movement towards anti-assimilation. It’s often been used as a political movement reclaiming the term. The LGBTQ+ community took back this word, that used to be a slur, and embraced it.

It’s important to remember that many may also consider queer as a hurtful term because of its past usage. Queer means strange or peculiar. It was used as a way to label something that was out of the norm.

Minus 18 defines queer as an umbrella term that encompasses the entire LGBTQ+ community. They are quick to point out however that finding an umbrella term is not always going to please everyone ad it’s important to recognize that as well.

Gay is a label to describe someone who is attracted to the same gender. It may be easy to assume that this could be used interchangeably with lesbian but it is important we let people choose the labels they identify with. The main difference, from my understanding, between gay and lesbian is the genders of those who choose or fall under one of those terms.

What is evident in my brief research is that the term queer offers many people a type of fluidity other labels lack. Queer gives people the ability to not share their exact label or preference. Under this term they don’t have to identify with a gender or a sexual orientation.

Some people may wonder why understanding each label’s meaning is important. Keep in mind, heterosexual couples have had the luxury of being labeled ‘normal’. Those identifying with their birth gender, also called cis-gendered, have also received this luxury. This is extremely unfair to anyone who not only doesn’t identify with that orientation but also doesn’t identify as male or female.

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The internet debate that resulted from Kehlani’s pregnancy announcement was a message that we all need to educate ourselves on the differences between the labels in the LGBTQ+ community. We should be respectful of the labels people choose to identify it and one way of doing that is by using the term appropriately.

By correctly utilizing these terms our world will hopefully become more tolerant and welcome of other viewpoints. We can only hope that this leads to understanding and acceptance on the basis that we’re all human beings. We’re more than the both the labels we choose and the ones society uses to describe us.

Also published on Medium.