Image of disco balls with the title LGBTIQA+

I recently updated my website and the acronym LGBTIQA+ occurs in a quite a few spots. Not everyone is as familiar with this acronym as I am—and for that matter plenty of wonderful people are more familiar with it than I am! So I wanted to link that acronym to a little explainer that makes it clear what I mean.  

Right up front, though: if you’re uncomfortable with or confused by this acronym, I understand because I have been too! Well, perhaps not confused… because I’m part of this community and have made an effort to understand the way we got here. But often uncomfortable.

No one should feel uncomfortable around this acronym, because it is an effort to include people. Even allies who may not be part of the rainbow family, but support us nonetheless! So here is my attempt to help you know what I’m talking about when I say LGBTIQA+…

Acronyms are inherently problematic

Before we go any further, I want to say that I am an avid avoider of acronyms. Especially in this era, with keyboards everywhere and few reasons to write by hand, there’s very little benefit in abbreviating words. And there’s plenty of disadvantages. As my grandfather always said, “abbreviation is laziness”.

The problem for the rainbow family, though, is that we are made up of people with a very broad range of gender identity and sexual characteristics and there is no one word that really describes all of us. However, in order to lobby for the rights we’ve won, we have worked together. So regardless of our diversity, we have every reason to think of ourselves as one community.

How we got here

Our community didn’t just turn up as it is. In western societies, members of the rainbow family had to hide who they were to stay safe. And as that changed, it was the larger sections of our community who came out first. They set up organisations with gay and lesbian in their title. Then they realised that bisexual people had a place in the community too, so the acronym GLB was born. During the AIDS pandemic, lesbian sisters were so supportive of their gay brothers that we started putting the L first. And then we recognised the need to acknowledge the place of transgender people in our community, so LGBT came along.

Now in most of the world, they pretty much stopped adding to the acronym at that point, and added a plus sign instead. Some add an I for intersex variations, some add a Q for questioning or queer (we can’t agree on which it stands for). In Australia, those additions became the norm, along with an A or three for asexual, aromantic and agender.

The different ways we render the acronym, like the different ways we define its meaning, are a legacy of this process. Most Australian state governments now default to LGBTIQA+, though the sequence of the last three letters changes often. You might see on my site a few different iterations of the acronym. Sometimes its hard to stay consistent and make things work.

Attempts to fix it

There are over forty different variations that could be included in the acronym. We struggle enough with the standard seven we usually use in Australia. And that’s why there’s a plus sign at the end. There are efforts to get around the awkwardness by using other signifiers, such as

  • SOGI (for sexual orientation and gender identity) or
  • GSM (gender and sexuality minority), or
  • QUILTBAG (I’m not even going there!)
  • and a whole bunch of others.

I’ve been a student of linguistics for a long time, and my expectation is that LGBT+ and LGBTIQA+ are too firmly entrenched both within the Anglosphere where they originated, and also in other language groups to be replaced by another acronym.

Acronyms, after all, are for Vogons!

I would love to have a word that describes us. Sometimes, informally, I refer to the rainbow family, as I did a few paragraphs back. But that’s still an imperfect solution.  

Queer is another strong candidate, and one I embrace personally. I love it not just because it is something we have reclaimed from our detractors, but also because its meaning is just so right. I am anything but normal or boring! But elders of our community were taunted with that word, so it is not a perfect candidate either.

Instead, I accept that the imperfect and awkward acronym LGBTIQA+ is the most formal and inclusive way to signify my rainbow family in its entirety.

But what does it stand for?

Ok, you didnt all want a history lesson. Or a linguistics lesson. If you just clicked through to know what LGBTIQA+ stands, thanks for bearing with me as I explained myself—the wait is over! 

L is for lesbian

G is for gay

B is for bisexual

T is for transgender 

I is for intersex

Q is usually said to be for queer, but also occasionally for questioning, and we love them both. 

A is for asexual, aromantic and agender folk. 

And finally + is absolutely as important as all the others, or maybe more. It is for all the people who don’t feel any of these descriptors is entirely right for them or who are pansexual or demisexual or sapiosexual or any one of the myriad other sexual orientation and gender identities that aren’t in the acronym. You all matter.

Further reading

If you’ve come this far and I haven’t bored you to tears, you might want a more comprehensive exploration of this. I cannot recommend any explainer more highly than The Equality Project’s LGBTIQ 101. Enjoy!

Published by Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver

Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver is an authorised celebrant, a playwright, a teacher and quite a few other things!

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