Common Terminology

A note on terminology.

Terminology always changes over time, at present it seems to be changing more rapidly than ever. This can on occasion lead to terms being used in a manner that unintentionally causes offence; if you find yourself in this position, please don’t panic or make a huge deal about it, just immediately offer an apology. Then ask them how they would like to be addressed/identified and move on, with of course compassion for how they (and you) might be feeling. Please also be aware that human sexuality is a spectrum and many of these ‘subdivisions’ exist on a spectrum also, as a result there is inevitably some variance between definitions of certain terminology and it is important that we respect the right of an individual to define themselves, even if this can seem challenging or unfamiliar to us. This is certainly not an exhaustive list- but it is intended to offer at least some support by way of introduction. Have fun exploring the rich diversity of human life.

A-Gender
Someone who does not identify with any gender.
Ally
Often a straight and/or cisgender person who is supportive of the LGBT+ community.
Asexual
A person who may not experience sexual feelings or associations.
Bi
An emotional and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender.
Biphobia
The fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi.
Cisgender or Cis
Someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.
Coming out
When a person tells a person or a group of other people about their LGBT+ identity.
Demisexual
A person who does not experience sexual attraction unless their form a strong emotional bond with another person.
Gay
A man who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards other men. Can also be used as a more generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality.
Gender
Refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and it can be changed.
Gender dysphoria
Used to describe when a person experiences discomfort or distress due to a mismatch between their sex they were assigned at birth and their gender identity. This is also the clinical diagnosis for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Gender expression
How a person chooses to outwardly express their gender, within the context of societal expectations of gender. Not to be confused with Trans.
Gender identity
A person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female or something else (see non-binary below), which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.
Gender reassignment
Another way of describing a person’s transition. To undergo gender reassignment usually means to undergo some sort of medical intervention, but it can also mean changing names, pronouns, dressing differently and living in their self-identified gender. Gender reassignment is a characteristic that is protected by the Equality Act 2010, and it is further interpreted in the Equality Act 2010 code of practice, although the term remains controversial.
Heterosexual / straight
A person who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards people of the opposite gender.
Homosexual
Someone who has an emotional romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender. The term ‘gay’ is now more common
Homophobia
The fear or dislike of someone, based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about lesbian, gay or bi people. Homophobic bullying may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, lesbian, gay or bi.
Intersex
A term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes or whose biological attributes do not fit with societal assumptions about what constitutes male or female. Intersex people may identify as male, female or non-binary.
LGBT+
Simply an acronym for lesbian, gay, bi and trans often now features a ‘+’ to represent other identities
Lesbian
Refers to a woman who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards other women.
Non-binary
‘Umbrella’ term for a person who does not identify as only male or only female, or who may identify as both.
Outed
When a lesbian, gay, bi or trans person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is disclosed to someone else without first seeking their permission. This may place them at risk.
Pansexual
Refers to a person whose emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by biological sex, gender or gender identity.
Pronoun
Words used to gender people during conversations - for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’. Gender neutral language pronouns such as them/they / their and ze / zir are now increasingly common and it is always best to ask what pronoun individuals prefer. These may change over time.
Queer
In the past a derogatory term for LGBT individuals. The term has now been reclaimed by some LGBT young people in particular who don’t identify with traditional categories around gender identity and sexual orientation. Queer can still cause offence to or trigger some LGBT+ people.
Questioning
The process of exploring and discovering your own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Sex
Assigned to a person on the basis of primary sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions.
Sexual orientation
A person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person.
Trans
An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) Transgender, Transsexual, Gender-queer (GQ), Gender-fluid, Non-binary, Gender-variant, Crossdresser, Genderless, Agender, Nongender, Third gender, Two-spirit, Bi-gender, Transman, Transwoman,Trans masculine, Trans feminine and Neutrois.
Transgender man
Someone who is assigned female at birth but identifies and lives as a man. Sometimes shortened to trans man, or FTM (abbreviation for female-to-male).
Transgender woman
Describes someone who is assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman. Sometimes shortened to trans woman, or MTF (abbreviation for male-to-female).
Transitioning
The steps/process a trans person might take to live in the gender with which they identify. Each person’s transition might involve a different series of steps. Some people may access medical intervention, such as hormone therapy and surgeries, but not all trans people want or are able to access or undergo this. Transitioning might involve coming out to friends, family and colleagues, wearing different clothes and changing official documents such as birth certificates.
Transphobia
Hatred, fear or dislike of an individual based purely on their trans identity- including denying/refusing to accept their gender identity.
Transsexual
An older, more medical based term for trans or transgender.

Some key questions to think about when tackling homophobic bullying.

Why Do Homosexual People Call Themselves 'Queer' or 'Gay'
Many homosexual people use the term 'gay'. This may be because the terms 'gay' and 'lesbian' are seen as being less formal or negative than 'homosexual'. The term 'gay' is used to describe both homosexual men and lesbian women. The word gay is often used in the context of 'Gay Pride' or 'Gay Rights' and as such has become associated with encouraging a sense of pride in the homosexual community. In recent years the word 'gay' has entered common usage as a pejorative term to insult or to imply that someone or something is without value or worth. Some people are offended that the word gay 'used to mean something nice' but is now associated with homosexuals. However language changes over time, and many words have more than one usage; we should therefore be mindful of intent as well as word choice. Gay can mean many things.

Is homosexuality a mental illness?
Absolutely not; research has found there to be no link between any of these sexual orientations and mental illness. Both heterosexual behaviour and homosexual behaviour are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras.

What Does 'Coming Out' Mean?
The phrase 'coming out' is used to refer to when a LGBTQI person chooses to tell one or a few people about their true identity. Many people hesitate to come out because of the risks of meeting rejection, prejudice and discrimination. Some choose to keep their identity a secret; some choose to come out in stages; some decide to come out in very public ways. In areas of the world where homosexual acts are penalized or prohibited, gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people can suffer negative legal consequences for coming out or even face death.

How are sexual orientation and gender identity determined?
Scientists still don't fully understand how sexual orientation and gender identity are determined but genetics, biology, psychological and social factors all play a part. For most people, sexual orientation and gender identity are shaped at any early age, hence the recent expression 'Born This Way'.

Is it my fault as a parent that my child is gay?
Absolutely not.

If my child is taught that LGBTQI people exist will it make them gay?
There is no evidence to support this.

Does a school have to talk about gay sex to tackle homophobic bullying?
No it does not.

This may vary from person to person and words change over the years, but the following words may cause hurt and upset:
  • faggot/fag
  • bender
  • poof
  • shirt lifter
  • fudge packer
  • queer
  • batty boy
  • lezzie
  • lezzer
  • ponce
  • dyke
  • sissy
  • Gaylord
  • gay boy
  • lesbo
  • AIDS boy
  • The use of the word 'gay' to mean something is without value

What the law says about homophobic bullying.

UK Equality Act (2010)

Sexual orientation and gender reassignment are both covered by the Equality Act

Sexual orientation means a person’s sexual orientation towards:

  • (a) persons of the same sex,
  • (b) persons of the opposite sex, or
  • (c) persons of either sex.

The Equality Act identifies sexual orientation as a ‘protected characteristic’ which means people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual / straight are protected against four types of discrimination:

    1. Direct discrimination, for example, is refusing someone a job or service because of their sexual orientation.
  • 2. Indirect discrimination is making decisions, or a public body planning services, in a way that disadvantages lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual/straight people unless the policy can be objectively justified.
  • 3. Discrimination by association is about discrimination of a person because of their association with another person; for example, as a family member or a carer.
  • 4. Discrimination by perception is about the discrimination of people based on the perception that they have a particular sexual orientation even if that is not in fact the case.

Gender reassignment protects any individual who is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning their gender by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

Employers should not discriminate against you, because you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual / straight.

Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (2003)
The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 makes it unlawful to treat someone less favourably due to their sexual orientation, their perceived sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of those they associate with. The law covers direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and victimisation.

Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007
The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 outlaws discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in education and in access to goods and services.

Human Rights Act (1998)
The Human Rights Act is to ensure that our rights are incorporated in UK law. You are entitled to defend your rights in the UK courts and public organisations and institutions have an obligation to respect everyone’s human rights.

Gender Recognition Act (2004)
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gives legal recognition to transsexual people in their preferred gender and provides an opportunity for them to receive a modified birth certificate to reflect their acquired gender. The Act also provides protection for transsexuals and their right to privacy where they have applied for legal recognition of their new gender identity.

Data Protection Act (1998)
The Data Protection Act requires organisations to handle individuals’ personal data appropriately, and defines sexual orientation as ‘sensitive personal data’. This means it needs to be treated with greater care than other personal data. Disclosing someone’s sexual orientation to others without their consent could also constitute harassment.

You can find out more here

OFSTED and Homophobic Bullying.

The Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for any education provider, including a private or independent provider, to discriminate between pupils on grounds of disability, race, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, or sex. Discrimination on these grounds (known as "protected characteristics") is unlawful in relation to prospective pupils (admissions arrangements), pupils at the school including absent or temporarily excluded pupils, and former pupils who have a continuing relationship with the school.

The Act protects pupils from discrimination and harassment based on 'protected characteristics'.

The protected characteristics for the schools provisions are:

  • Disability.

  • Gender reassignment.

  • Pregnancy and maternity.

  • Race.

  • Religion or belief.

  • Sex.

  • Sexual orientation.

The framework for OFSTED (the school inspection body for maintained schools) school inspections updated in March 2012 forms the statutory basis for inspection and summarises the main features of school inspections carried from January 2012. Particularly relevant criteria are highlighted in bold.

Inspectors are required to report on the quality of education provided in the school and must, in particular, cover:

  • the achievement of pupils at the school

  • the quality of teaching in the school

  • the quality of leadership in and management of the school

  • the behaviour and safety of pupils at the school.

In reporting, inspectors must also consider:
  • the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school

  • the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school, and in particular the needs of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs.

Behaviour and safety of pupils at the school

When evaluating the behaviour and safety of pupils at the school, inspectors consider:

  • pupils' attitudes to learning and conduct in lessons and around the school

  • pupils' behaviour towards, and respect for, other young people and adults, including freedom from bullying and harassment that may include cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying related to special educational need, sexual orientation, sex, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment or disability

  • how well teachers manage the behaviour and expectations of pupils to ensure that all pupils have an equal and fair chance to thrive and learn in an atmosphere of respect and dignity

  • pupils' ability to assess and manage risk appropriately and to keep themselves safe

  • pupils' attendance and punctuality at school and in lessons

  • how well the school ensures the systematic and consistent management of behaviour.

Overall effectiveness

Inspectors evaluate the quality of the education provided in the school. In doing this, they consider the evidence gathered to support their evaluations of the four key judgements:

  • the achievement of pupils at the school

  • the quality of teaching in the school

  • the quality of leadership in and management of the school

  • the behaviour and safety of pupils at the school.

They also consider:

  • the extent to which the education provided meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school, and in particular, those who have a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010 and pupils who have special educational needs

  • how well the school promotes all pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development by providing positive experiences through planned and coherent opportunities in the curriculum and through interactions with teachers, other adults and the local community.

In January 2012 OSTED issued the following guidance for inspectors visiting schools to inspect:

Exploring the school's actions to prevent homophobic bullying Briefing for section 5 inspection

Inspectors should make sure that questions are age appropriate and asked in the right context.

With primary pupils inspectors might explore whether:

  • pupils ever hear anyone use the word 'gay' when describing a thing and whether they have been told by teachers that using the word 'gay' to mean something is rubbish is wrong, and why it is wrong


  • pupils ever get picked on by other children for not behaving like a 'typical girl' or a 'typical boy'


  • pupils have had any lessons about different types of families (single parent, living with grandparents, having two mummies or two daddies)

With secondary pupils inspectors might explore the above, and whether:

  • there is any homophobic bullying or name calling in school or on social media sites


  • if a gay pupil was 'out' in school, they would feel safe from bullying


  • they have learned about homophobic/transphobic bullying and ways to stop it happening in school


  • they learn in school about different types of families - whether anyone is, or would be, teased about having same-sex parents


With senior leaders and when looking at documentary evidence inspectors might explore:

  • whether they are aware of any instances of homophobic or transphobic language in school, if this is recorded and how it is acted upon


  • whether the school's equalities, bullying and safeguarding policies address gender identity and sexuality


  • if training has been provided for staff in how to tackle homophobic/transphobic bullying including language


  • whether the school has taken any action to ensure provision meets the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils for example in Sex and Relationships Education and other aspects of PSHE including providing age appropriate advice and guidance


  • how the school seeks to support LGBT pupils and those from LGBT families


  • whether policies promote safety for all groups of pupils regardless of sexuality or gender identity, including the use of language


  • if there is specific mention of gender identity and sexuality in the equality, diversity, behaviour and bullying policies


  • whether policies include reference to carers as well as parents

With governors inspectors might explore:

  • how the school meets its statutory duty to prevent all forms of prejudice based bullying including homophobia and transphobia?


  • whether they are aware of any homophobic/transphobic bullying or language in school and whether are incidents followed up effectively


  • how they ensure that sexuality and gender equality are covered within the school's behaviour guidelines and policies