Gay vs. LGBT: Getting terminology right

Are the terms “gay community” and “LGBT” community” synonymous?

Of course not.

But as many frustrated lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will tell you, they are often referred to as being part of the “gay community” by the media and others, who are trying to appear politically correct. I remember a U.S. president talking about same-sex marriage and using the terms interchangeably when, in fact, the sexual orientation issues he was discussing had nothing to do with bisexual or transgender people.

So, it is little wonder that some members of the  general public assume lesbian, transgender and bisexual people are part of the “gay community” — though, some lesbians to refer to themselves as “gay,” while many others feel the term applies only to gay males, hence the L and G in LGBT.

Still, sometimes in reports, it is necessary to use both terms. Mick Côté of the Montreal Gazette — one of my colleagues — skillfully charts a course using those two terms in his recent opinion piece on Michael Sam.

Sam, you may recall, is the first professional football player to publicly come out as a gay man. He recently signed on to play with the Montreal Alouettes, and was received with much fanfare by Montrealers, especially the “gay community.” When he bolted from training camp recently with no explanation, leaving people to speculate, many people felt let down, Mick says in his piece, which is titled No, Michael Sam didn’t let the gay community down.

Note Mick’s choice of the word “gay” in the headline and in the first paragraph — the lede — of the article.

Throughout the piece, though, Mick talks about how Sam inspired the LGBT community, because coming out so publicly not doubt did inspire many others who are thinking of coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans — just as Caitlyn Jenner’s recent coming out did the same. Both Sam and Jenner demonstrated how important it is to be true to yourself, and to stand up for yourself.

So, Sam’s departure from the Alouettes in no way diminishes that contribution to LGBT people.

But as Mick points out, it is mostly members of the Montreal gay community who feel let down by the departure of Sam.

Do they have a right to feel that way? Well, read Mick’s piece for his opinion on that.

Kudos to Mick for demonstrating how to use the terms correctly in a report. You think it would be obvious, but too many journalists don’t get it right: they conflate the four groups under the term “gay community” when they shouldn’t, thus confusing a lot of people.

Mick nailed it.

— Jillian Page, LGBT Perspectives editor


“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey


13 thoughts on “Gay vs. LGBT: Getting terminology right”

  1. Considering all the confusion and misuse we’ve seen of those terms even within the LGBT (whatever happened to the ‘Q’?) community, I think it’s a bit premature to expect the general population to get it all straight (no pun intended!) very soon. At least some terms such as ‘faggot’, and worse, have fallen out of common usage!

    But you’re primarily talking about journalistic accuracy here, and journalists should definitely make the effort to be informed if they’re going to write about a topic. We nudists surely don’t appreciate the tendency for writers to refer to every crazy naked person as a nudist or naturist!


  2. Isn’t the gay community simply a subset of the LGBT community? The term LGBT did not exist when I was a young adult, and if I recall it was created within the gay and lesbian community to be inclusive of bi and transsexual people. But since most muggles can only see black and white in all issues it is inevitable to see the terms used interchangeably.

    Methinks that you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Just be happy that we are seeing more good news than bad. Seriously, as a bisexual man I take pleasure in reading news of advances in “gay rights” that I know may include me, my bi friends, my trans friend (yes I have one), and a couple of lesbians in my neighborhood. I really don’t care what the muggle press calls us, as long as LGBT rights are advanced.

    (Muggles are people who don’t see or know of our magical world. We’re usually invisible to them).


    1. I understand what you are saying. But I have heard from a lot of trans people, some lesbians and some bi people over the years who resent being called part of the gay community — especially trans people, whose gender identity issues shouldn’t be confused with sexual orientation issues. But that is what happens, creating confusion about them.

      As for we bisexual people, we are the most overlooked of the LGBT group. I will have a post on that soon.


      1. I can see why a trans person would not like being called gay or lumped into the gay community, but, really, they need to be careful which battles they choose. When I see a trans person, I don’t see the trans, I see the person as they want to be seen. One is difficult because I don’t know if James or Judy will be walking through the door.

        James and Judy aren’t gay and I respect that.

        The trans community has moved forward with rights in the wake of LGBT rights advancement. The general public is finally beginning to accept LGBT people as normal, but I think it’s premature to start nit picking about labels.


        1. Well, I was just pointing out the good job my colleague had done. Many journalists screw it up, and it truly bothers trans people — who sometimes are misgendered and misnamed by the media. I’ve seen stories about trans women in which they refer to her as “him,” use the person’s male name instead of chosen female name, and refer to “him” as “gay” because they don’t know the difference between gender identity issues and sexual orientation issues.

          So, it is nice to see a journalist get it right, and it is a good example for other journalists to follow (several journalists read my blogs).

          But your point is well taken, as always, Steve.


          Liked by 1 person

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