The Concept: LGBTQ is an initialism that collectively refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Queer communities. In use since the 1990s, the term is an adaptation of the initialism LGB, which itself started replacing the phrase gay community beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. The initialism has become mainstream as a self-designation and has been adopted by the majority of sexuality and gender identity-based community centers and media in the United States.
Definitions: Throughout the following list of definitions I’ve chosen to use terms and denotations that are commonly accepted by those who identify as LGBTQ. The one exception will be to use the term homosexual, rather than “gay” when referring to people attracted to members of the same sex. (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation considers the term “homosexual” to be offensive and recommends that journalists use the term “gay.”)
Gay – Until the mid-twentieth century, the term gay was originally used to refer to feelings of being “carefree”, “happy”, or “bright and showy”, though it also added, in the late 17th century, the meaning “addicted to pleasures and dissipations” implying a that a person was uninhibited by moral constraints. In the 1960s, the term began to be used in reference to people attracted to members of the same sex who often found the term “homosexual” to be too clinical or critical. Currently, the term “gay” is used to refer to men attracted to men, though it is also used colloquially as an umbrella term to include all LGBTQ people.
Lesbian – The term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic attraction between females. (The word is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos, home to Sappho (6th century BC), a female poet that proclaimed her love for girls). The term “gay and lesbian” became more popular in 1970s as a way of acknowledging the two broad sexual-political communities that were part of the Gay liberation movement.
Bisexual – A person who is attracted to two sexes or two genders, but not necessarily simultaneously or equally. Although the term used to be defined as a person who is attracted to both genders or both sexes, that has been replaced by the number two since the LGBT community believes there are not only two sexes (e.g., there are also intersex and transsexual) and there are not only two genders (see transgender). Within the LGBTQ community, a person that is sexually attracted to more than two biological sexes or gender identities is often referred to as pansexual or omnisexual.
Transgender – A general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies to vary from culturally conventional gender roles. Transgender people are those whose psychological self (“gender identity”) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. In the LGBTQ community, a distinction is made between biological sex, which is one’s body (genitals, chromosomes, etc.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity. For example, a female with a masculine gender identity or who identifies as a man. Transgender is an umbrella term for transsexuals, cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, “gender queers” (e.g., androgynous), and people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman. Transgender is not a sexual orientation and transgender people may have any sexual orientation. While some people may fit under this definition of transgender, they may choose not to identify as such.
Queer – An umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary. The term is still controversial, even within the LGBTQ community, because it was once used as a homosexual slur until it was reappropriated in the 1990s. The range of what “queer” includes varies, though in addition to referring to LGBT-identifying people, it can also encompass: pansexual, pomosexual, intersexual, genderqueer, asexual and autosexual people, and even gender normative heterosexuals whose sexual orientations or activities place them outside the heterosexual-defined mainstream, e.g., BDSM practitioners, or polyamorous persons. (In academia, the term “queer” and its verbal use, “queering”, indicate the study of literature, academic fields, and other social and cultural areas from a non-heteronormative perspective.)
Variants: Along with LGBTQ, other letters are sometimes added. Other variants include: An extra Q for “questioning”; “U” for “unsure”; “C” for “curious”; a “I” for “intersex”; another “T” for “transsexual” or “transvestite”; another “T”, “TS”, or “2” for “Two‐Spirit” persons; an “A” or “SA” for “straight allies”; or an “A” for “asexual”; “P” for “pansexual” or “polyamorous”, “H” for “HIV-affected”; and “O” for “other”.
Related terms: A term that could be considered an antonym of LGBTQ is “heteronormative.” Popularized in the early 1990s in Queer Theory, the term refers to lifestyle norms that hold that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life that may or may not be socially contructed. Heternomativity presumes that heterosexual behavior is the norm for sexual practices and that sexual and marital relations are only fitting between a man and a woman.
Why it Matters: Whether Christians should even use the label LGBTQ for persons or groups who do not explicitly self-identify with the initialism is debatable. But what is clear is that Christians must reject the underlying assumptions about gender and sexuality that the term represents. The Christian worldview is, in the parlance of Queer Theory, heteronormative. The Bible clearly presents gender and heterosexual sex within the bounds of marriage as part of the goodness of God’s created order. Outside of the God-ordained form of man-woman marriage, all forms of heterosexual and homosexual sexual engagement (as opposed to temptation to same-sex or opposite sex desire) are clearly forbidden by Scripture. This is not in dispute, despite the attempts of many of our fellow Christians who are attempting to ignore or twist the Word of God to make it more palatable to modern American society.
Perhaps before we can affectively reach out to those in the grip of sexual and gender confusion we should first address the theological confusion among our fellow believers. Whether out of misguided kindness or craven peer-pressure, many Christians are promoting hate and lies about how God is accepting of our panoply of choices in expressing our sexual and gender preferences. Sadly, these same believers are often treated as if they were the friends of the “LGBTQ community.” But friends do not cheer as those they love embrace their sin and reject their Redeemer.
The true Christian response to those who are tempted by same-sex desire or suffering from gender identity confusion is to apply a gospel-centric expression of care, concern, and compassion. This requires, first of all, that we tell the truth about mankind and sin, and that we see people as God sees them rather than through their own preferred self-distorting labels and worldview. There are no “LGBTQ” people, only men and women made in the image of God who are suffering from the consequences of the Fall and their own sin. We do our friends, family, and neighbors no favors by “affirming” what God says must be renounced.
Note on sources: General information that is not directly cited was likely taken from the Oxford English Dictionary or Wikipedia. Most other generic terms for sexuality were taken from the University of California at Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center.