Our Lives, Our Choices, Our Rights!

Understanding gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ+

There are many different ways that people feel and express their gender and their sexuality. There are many identity terms that people use to describe how they experience their gender and their sexuality.

In this guidebook we write ‘LGBTQ+’. This stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. The ‘Q’ also stands for people who are questioning their gender or sexuality. The ‘+’ refers to many other gender and sexual identities, such as non-binary, pansexual, asexual, and intersex. The ‘+’ also includes new identities that people are inventing to describe their gender and sexuality, and people who do not use words to describe their gender and sexuality. We want to be an inclusive community. Even if a person does not use a specific word to describe their gender or sexuality, they can still be included in the LGBTQ+ community if that is where they feel they belong. This is especially important for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, because some of us might not have the words to describe our gender or sexuality, but we might still be part of the LGBTQ+ community because of how we feel inside. Some people cannot or do not want to share their gender or sexuality out loud to others, but it is still important what they feel inside and how they see themselves.

We believe that this guidebook can help you to understand and support people with all different gender and sexual identities and experiences. Together we make a beautiful rainbow!

Here are some important concepts to understand about gender and sexuality. This information is also in a packet in the handout section.

Concepts of gender and sexuality diagram

The person in the drawing shown above has many aspects of who they are. You should not make guesses about this person’s gender or sexuality based on how they look. This person has a gender identity that they feel inside their mind, a gender expression that they show, and a sex assigned at birth. They might also feel romantic and/or sexual attraction.

Gender Identity
The gender identity arrow shown above is pointing to the person’s brain because their gender identity is the gender they feel that they are. Gender identity is how you feel inside your mind and the words you use to describe your gender. Gender identity can change or stay the same throughout a person’s life. There are many different gender identities. Some gender identities are: woman, man, non-binary, gender fluid, and agender. Some people choose a name and pronouns that matches the gender they feel inside. The handout on pages #-# gives a few examples of gender identities.
Gender Expression
The gender expression arrow shown above is pointing to the person’s hair and clothes because their gender expression is how they show their gender on the outside. People express their gender with their style and actions. Clothes, hair, make up, body shape, and voice are some of the ways that people express their gender. A person should be able to make their own decisions about how to express their gender.
The sex arrow shown above is pointing to the person’s sexual body parts because when a baby is born, a doctor labels each baby with a sex based on their sexual body parts. A baby with a penis is labeled male. A baby with a vagina is labeled female. Some people are intersex. Intersex people have a mix of some male body parts and some female body parts. Some people use the phrase ‘sex assigned at birth’ to describe the label of male, female, or intersex that is given to each baby that is born. Doctors might also label a person’s sex based on their DNA or the changes during puberty. People should not be forced to have a gender identity or expression based on their sex.
The attraction arrow shown above points to the person’s heart. The heart represents the attraction that the person feels. Some people feel romantic feelings for other people. Some people have sexual feelings for other people. People of all different genders can feel attracted to others with all different gender identities and expressions. Some people do not feel romantic or sexual feelings. Some people use sexual identity terms to describe the attraction that they feel. There are many different sexual identities. Some sexual identities are: gay, straight, asexual, lesbian, and bisexual. The handout on pages #-# gives a few examples of sexual identities.

Pauline’s Example

Pauline, one of the authors of this guidebook, created this drawing to show an example of the different aspects of who she is.

Pauline’s example of concepts of gender and sexuality diagram

Transgender Identities

The word transgender can be used to describe many different ways that people identify. Usually transgender means a person whose gender identity (the gender they feel inside) is not what was expected based on the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, if a person was assigned male at birth and they identify as a woman, they are a transgender woman. If a person was assigned female at birth and they identify as a man, they are a transgender man. If a person was assigned male or female at birth and they identify as agender or non-binary, they might also consider themselves transgender.


Pronouns are words that we use to refer to someone in place of their name. Pronouns in English are associated with gender. For example, many people think of he/him/his as the pronouns for a man and she/her/hers as the pronouns for a woman. We feel that each person should be called the pronouns that are accurate for how that person feels. It can be hurtful to be called the wrong pronouns. You can show someone acceptance and respect by calling them by the right pronouns. Instead of guessing a person’s pronouns, you can ask them what pronouns they want to be called. Here is a chart showing some of the pronouns that people might use. This chart gives examples of how pronouns are used. There are other pronouns not on this chart. We think you should try your best to call each person by the pronouns that they feel are right for them.

SheHerHersHerselfShe is my friend. I like her.
HeHimHisHimselfHe is my friend. I like him.
TheyThemTheirsThemselfThey are my friend. I like them.

Identity Definitions

We decided not to write down definitions of gender and sexual identities. It is really hard to write a glossary of LGBTQ+ identities because these words can mean different things to different people. We believe in gender and sexual self-determination, which means that each person should be able to define for themselves what their gender and sexuality identity is and what it means to them. As you read the guidebook, you will see some examples of how self-advocates defined their genders and sexualities. We also listed resources with some links to glossaries of LGBTQ+ terms.