The LGBTQIA+ acronym and its history


Representatives of U.S. Bank carry a large pride flag across the parade route during the Des Moines Pride Parade on June 9. The parade started at the Iowa Capitol Building and traveled down Grand Avenue in the East Village. 

Logan Metzger

The acronym used for the LGBTQIA+ community has evolved and changed over the years and is still debated today on what is the correct terminology.

Since the 1990s, different versions of the acronym have been created as increasingly nuanced ways to understand and define people’s lived experiences of gender and sexuality have been expressed.

The short acronym of LGBT has been used since the 1990s after it was adapted from LGB — which stood for lesbian, gay and bisexual. LGB replaced the term gay in reference to the LGBTQIA+ community in the mid-to-late 1980s.

“The LGBTQ acronym is not just a collection of letters that represent identities; rather, these letters are history embodied,” said Jeffry Iovannone, primary writer for Queer History for the People, in a post on “They tell the story of the modern American Gay Civil Rights Movement, reminding us that our victories have been a long time coming, and have not been easily won. And there is still much work to do.”

T, which stands for transgender, was next to gain a place on the acronym.

While the first three letters, LGB, focus on sexual identity, transgender refers to a person whose gender identity is different from the sex on their birth certificate.

However, not everyone who identifies as trans will take hormones or have sex reassignment surgery, and some don’t identify within the gender binary, preferring gender-neutral pronouns such as they, them and theirs.

Following the letter T was Q, which stands for Queer, and can be used as an umbrella term to represent anyone who’s non-cisgender and non-heterosexual.

The term is a reclaimed derogatory term, therefore it may be seen as derogatory to some while others use it openly.

The term queer is sometimes preferred because it is ambiguous and allows people to avoid the more rigid boundaries associated with labels like lesbian and transgender.

Another Q can be added for questioning — producing the variant LGBTQQ — which represents people who are still exploring their sexuality or gender identity.

I stands for intersex which is, a person “born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male,” according to the Intersex Society of North America.

Experts believe that 0.05 to 1.7 percent of the population is born with “intersex traits,” meaning their body is not definitely male or female, possibly because they have chromosomes which are not XX or XY, or because their genitals or reproductive organs are not considered “standard.”

The A stands for asexual, which is defined as someone who does not experience sexual attraction for any gender.

The plus sign is there to include anyone’s identity that doesn’t fall under another letter or allows for the acronym to be shortened.

Another expanded version of the acronym in use is LGBTQQIP2SAA, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two spirit, asexual and ally.

The 2S stands for two spirit people, “two spirit is a third gender found in some Native American cultures, often involving birth-assigned men or women taking on the identities and roles of the opposite sex,” according to

Pansexual is the P in the acronym and refers to a person whose romantic, emotional and/or sexual attraction is not based on gender, biological sex or gender identity.

“While this version is certainly inclusive of the myriad ways people understand gender and sexual identity, it is not necessarily efficient,” Iovannone said. “It is difficult to remember, let alone say, and will invariably result in giving those not familiar with the community a terminology lesson.”

Another alternative acronym is MOGII, which stands for marginalized orientations, gender identities and intersex.

“The primary benefit of the MOGII acronym is that it encompasses the diverse identities that comprise the community in only five letters,” Iovannone said. “But aside from its compact nature, there are several problems with this variation.”

One of the main problems Iovannone points out is MOGII is intended to refer to the LGBTQIA+ community; however, cisgender heterosexual women are also marginalized and oppressed on the basis of their gender identities.

No matter the chosen acronym for the LGBTQIA+ community, there is a history behind the community and the acronym that is the common face of it.

One important part is the decision to place the L at the front.

“When civic and religious leaders call us ‘GLB’ or ‘GLBT’ rather than a now normative version of LGBT, […] It erases part of our history, especially the history of women in the LGBT community and in our struggles for civil rights,” according to Elizabeth Drescher, author of Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones, in a post on “It takes away a real and meaningful power — the power of naming — that has been marked throughout history and culture as critical to shaping and asserting authentic and authoritative identity.”

This history of the acronym goes back to the last sustained trauma in the LGBTQIA+ world which is the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s. During that time, as most people are aware, thousands of gay men, transwomen and also many straight and bisexual men and women died.

“Gay men themselves rallied to each other’s sides as did many straight allies, providing companionship, meals, and some measure of nursing care to many people with AIDS,” Drescher said. “But a central, and largely unacknowledged, factor in the care of men with AIDS were organized and more loosely configured networks of lesbians.”

Drescher went on to explain how women took more leadership roles in LGBT communities as gay men were sidelined by HIV/AIDS.

By the late 1990s, then, “gay community centers” across the country became “lesbian and gay community centers,” and it became common to switch the G and the L in standard acronym as well as, over time, to add the T and then the Q and so on.

“So, the L before the G is more than a nit-picking alphabet soup,” Drescher said. “It is a signal of respect, of solidarity and of hope for a shared future of equality, justice and love.”