LGBTQIA+, a seemingly disjoint collection of letters, has dominated the landscape of social and legal activism for greater rights for homosexual rights for over two decades now.
From India’s public and tumultuous struggle against Section 377 to the landmark judgments legalising same-sex marriages in the United States, the abbreviation has increasingly replaced more esoteric “homosexual” or “gay”, even in the mainstream media.
The term started gaining popular currency in the 90s after many complained that previous terms used, such as gay, couldn’t represent everyone and left more vulnerable people – such as transgenders – erased from popular memory. But what does this apparent alphabet soup stand for?
L is used to represent Lesbians, women who experience romantic and sexual attraction towards other women.
G stands for Gay, men who are sexually and romantically drawn towards other men.
B denotes Bisexuals, people who experience sexual and romantic attraction towards both men and women.
T connotes Transgender, people who don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. These include indigenous communities such as Hijra in India, people who have undergone surgeries to change their identity and others who may not have undergone surgeries – or ever want to – but don’t identify with the sex they were given at birth.
Q is for queer, an umbrella term used by anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and may represent a political consciousness that goes beyond personal life and into social activism, often in solidarity with other social movements such as women, black, Dalit, disabled etc.
The term queer was originally a slur from the 1940s and 50s and is an attempt by the community to reclaim a word that is associated with violence and discrimination, similar to the way the feminist movement reclaimed the word “slut”. Many people, who think an umbrella term is better to represent the community than a fractured mish-mash of identities, also use it.
Q can also stand for questioning, representing many people within the community and without, who are not sure or fixed about their gender or sexuality identity.
I denotes Intersex, a loose term used for people born with anatomy that doesn’t fit with conventional definitions of female or male. For example, a person born looking conventionally female may have anatomy mostly typical of males. Or someone who is born with genitalia that appears to be in-between the most usual male and female private parts. The Intersex Society of North America says intersex anatomy may not always show up at birth, and may be identified at puberty or old age. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone ever knowing.
A connotes Asexual, people who don’t experience sexual attraction towards any gender. But asexual people may seek romantic and emotional ties, physical intimacy and be in relationships.
A also sometimes denotes Ally, people who don’t identify within the community but support the cause of LGBTQIA+ rights and freedoms.
+ stands for the multitude of other letters that represent people who identify as pansexual (experiencing attraction towards all genders), demisexual (sexual attraction tied to emotional attraction), kink (members of the Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism community), Kothi ( communities of apparently effeminate males in India) and more.