No matter who we are or who we love, we all deserve the right to live out our lives genuinely, completely and honestly.
In this report, we use the term “LGB+” as an umbrella term for sexual identities that are non-straight, such as lesbian, gay and bisexual (“LGB”), as well as any and all additional non-straight sexual identities (“+”). While we use “LGB+” in this report as shorthand, it is meant for anyone who identifies as any one of the multitude of sexual identities which people may feel best describe themselves.
No resource can be fully applicable to every member of the LGBTQ+ community. HRC offers other resources beyond this general one, including materials specifically designed for transgender and non-binary people, Bi+ people, Black LGBTQ+ people, Latinx LGBTQ+ people, Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ people, and allies. Visit HRC’s Coming Out resource page for additional information.
Coming Out and Inviting In:
When a person realizes they are LGB+, they may decide to tell others about their identity, a process often called “coming out.” The phrase “coming out” may also refer to the process by which a person accepts themselves as LGB+. Some LGB+ people may choose to describe the process of telling others as “inviting in” and letting others know important parts of themselves. The concept of “inviting in” reminds us that others must put in the work to allow us to feel safe and comfortable being fully open as our authentic selves.
Every LGB+ person makes a decision about whether, how, where, when and with whom we want to be open.
While no one resource can be fully applicable to every LGB+ person, this resource aims to help you and your loved ones through this process in realistic and practical terms, regardless of what that process may look like.
The experience of coming out or inviting in covers the full spectrum of human emotion — from paralyzing fear to genuine happiness. We are here to walk you through what that may look like.
When you disclose your sexual orientation to your parents or caregivers, they may:
Supportive or not, your parents’ or caregivers’ initial feelings may not reflect their feelings over the long term. Keep in mind that this is big news, and there’s no timetable for how long it takes to adjust.
ALLY: A term used to describe someone who is actively supportive of LGBTQ+ people. It encompasses straight and cisgender allies, as well as those within the LGBTQ+ community who support each other (e.g., a lesbian who is an ally to the bisexual+ community).
ASEXUAL: Often called “ace” for short, asexual refers to a complete or partial lack of sexual attraction or lack of interest in sexual activity with others. Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and asexual people may experience no, little or conditional sexual attraction.
BIPHOBIA: The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, people who love and are sexually attracted to more than one gender.
BISEXUAL: A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. This is sometimes written as bisexual+ or bi+ to incorporate many non-monosexual identities, such as pansexual, omnisexual, or fluid. Bisexuals make up the majority of the LGBTQ+ population–according to Gallup, in 2021, over half (56.8%) of all LGBTQ+ adults in the United States identified as bisexual.
FLUID: A term people often use to describe their sexual orientation if their orientation changes with time, or if their orientation has the potential to change with time.
GAY: A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender. Men, women and non-binary people may use this term to describe themselves.
GENDER-EXPANSIVE: Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary (male/female) gender system. Often used as an umbrella term when referring to young people still exploring the possibilities of their gender identities.
GENDER IDENTITY: One’s innermost concept of self as man, woman, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from the sex assigned at birth.
HOMOPHOBIA: The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, people who love and are sexually attracted to members of the same gender.
LESBIAN: A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women. Women and non-binary people may use this term to describe themselves.
LGBTQ+: Stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and more.” Many people and organizations use “LGBTQ” as a catch-all term for the non-cisgender and non-straight community, but the acronym varies depending on culture and style. For example, some groups may add “I” for intersex (LGBTQI), “2” for two-spirit (LGBQT2) or “A” for asexual (LGBTQA). HRC uses LGBTQ+, with the plus sign representing all of the many identities on the queer spectrum.
MONOSEXUAL: Describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of only one gender.
PANSEXUAL: Describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Sometimes used interchangeably with omnisexual, queer, or bisexual.
QUEER: Queer has many meanings. For some people, “queer” is a general catch-all/ umbrella term, used as a shorthand to capture all non-heterosexual sexual identities, and/or non-cisgender gender identities. For other people, queer may reflect their sexual orientation, leading them to identify as queer as opposed to lesbian, or bisexual, or something else. For them, queer often reflects those who are attracted to/partner with people who are transgender, non-binary, or gender-expansive, or who themselves are transgender, non-binary, or gender expansive. Still others may use queer to define their gender /gender identity, reflecting those who do not identify as exclusively straight and/or folks who have non-binary or gender-expansive identities. This term was previously used as a slur, but has been reclaimed by many parts of the LGBTQ+ movement. Like all identities, you should only refer to someone as queer when they have let you know they identify that way.
SAME-GENDER LOVING: A term some prefer to use to express attraction to and love of people of the same gender.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Term used to describe one’s overall inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to other people. Essentially, it is who you are ‘oriented’ towards. Note: an individual’s sexual orientation is independent of their gender identity.
SEXUAL IDENTITY: The label one uses for their sexual orientation. Essentially, it is the term you use to indicate your sexual orientation, to yourself and to the world. While most people who use a specific sexual identity (e.g., lesbian) use it to refer to a specific sexual orientation (e.g., a woman who is attracted to other women), others may use different identity labels to describe that same sexual orientation—and others still may use the same identity label to convey different sexual orientations.
The Trevor Helpline 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (online chat available) (800) 273-8255
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline: (888) 843-4564
The GLBT National Youth Talkline (youth serving youth through age 25) (800) 246-7743