Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer people (LGBTQ) have been publicly advocating for equal rights and responsibilities within U.S. society since the late 1960‚Äôs. The United States has made considerable progress in its acceptance of sexual diversity, as it has in racial and religious diversity.¬† Same sex sexuality is now legal in every U.S. state, and LGBTQ issues have emerged as a major social and political issue nationally.¬† Many rights and benefits afforded to LGBTQ individuals, as well as openness toward sexual diversity, still vary in the U.S. depending on geographical location, local culture, and individual backgrounds. ¬†As of 2015, all states in the U.S. permit gay marriage, although cultural acceptance of gay marriage varies widely from region to region, and person to person.¬† Many cities and private businesses provide the same or similar benefits to the LGBT employees and their families as heterosexual married employees.¬†Representations of LGBTQ people and issues are increasingly visible within US media and popular culture, and as a consequence are now mainstream within American life.¬† Organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) estimate that as many as 1 of 10 individuals are LGBTQ.¬† An estimated 8.8 million gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals live in the United States and the 2000 US Census reports at least 601,209 gay and lesbian families/ households.¬† (www.hrc.org)
International students coming from some countries (such as Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and South Africa where same-sex couples have the right to marry and gender roles may be more fluid) may find US attitudes or instances of homophobia and heterosexism puzzling and ‚Äúbehind the times.‚ÄĚ¬† ¬†Indeed, LGBTQ individuals still face numerous challenges and instances of heterosexism and homophobia in their daily lives.¬† By contrast, some international students may find U.S. culture and laws to be much more open and accepting of sexual diversity than their home culture and may find this openness exciting, new, or different.
Many LGBTQ students find Madison to be a very welcoming and open environment.¬† UW students, faculty and staff are usually very friendly toward LGBTQ people, and our institutional culture encourages and expects acceptance and fair treatment of all LGBTQ people on the part of all members of the University community.¬†All students, regardless of sexual orientation, should know that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has an official and enforced non-discrimination policy¬†which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin or ancestry,¬†sexual orientation, and other protected classes.¬† Inquiries concerning this policy may be directed to the University Housing Human Resources Office, or to the UW-Madison Office for Equity and Diversity, 179A Bascom Hall, (608) 263-2378.¬†
While the University policy covers only direct forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, within the University community it is also considered polite to always assume the possibility of LGBTQ identity. Thus, for example, when invitations to parties are distributed, consider adding the phrase¬†‚Äúpartners and signifcant others are welcome‚ÄĚ¬†rather than the more traditional ‚Äúspouses are welcome.‚ÄĚ This phrase has the benefit of encompassing both different-sex and same-sex partners.
LGBTQ people at UW-Madison vary in their degree of openness about their sexual orientation (or their gender identity). Many talk about it to their friends, their colleagues, their professors or their students.¬† Some LGBTQ people will talk about their partners or gender identity as part of their every-day conversation in the same way a heterosexual student would talk about their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife.¬† You may see both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ couples displaying affection for one another on campus.¬† Other LGBTQ people will prefer to keep their sexuality private. It is important to let individuals choose whether or not they are comfortable speaking with you about their sexual orientation.¬† The metaphor of ‚Äúcoming out of the closet,‚ÄĚ refers to the process of an individual choosing when and to whom to be open about one‚Äôs sexuality, and is not a one-time event.¬† ‚ÄúComing Out‚ÄĚ can be freeing or stressful and frightening for a student, as they may not be sure how the listener will respond. ¬†Listening and being open and caring to your LGBT peers or friends is an important way to help them feel comfortable and safe.¬† On campus, it is likely that you will meet LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff- both domestic and international.¬† Take advantage of the opportunity to meet and learn from the experiences of people from multiple backgrounds.¬†
UW-Madison offers many services and programs for LGBTQ students and the campus community.¬† International students are invited and welcome to participate in LGBTQ events and support services.¬† Check out UW-Madison‚Äôs¬†LGBT¬†Campus Center¬†for information on programming, support, social events, and leadership opportunities.¬†
If you would like to talk to LGBT-identified staff members or LGBT allies at International Student Services about a concern or simply to visit, email¬†firstname.lastname@example.org or call 608-265-5113¬† Your call or email will be responded to in a confidential manner.¬† As a student, if you are experiencing stress or personal concerns and would like to talk with a counseling professional, you may contact¬†Counseling Services¬†at (608) 265-5600 for appointments and general information.¬† (Also visit¬†University Health Services)
Different cultures use different terms to describe and talk about the LGBTQ community.¬† You might read the list below and wonder, ‚ÄúWhat should I call someone who is gay?¬† There are so many terms.‚ÄĚ¬† The best answer if you‚Äôre not sure is to ask the person how they self-identify.¬† If you don‚Äôt know, LGBT is generally a safe and acceptable term to use.
A word on Definitions and Language
Not every language has specific words to describe women or men who are emotionally and physically attracted to or who fall in love with people of the same sex.¬† Not every language has words to describe people who change their gender or sex or who are neither or both masculine and feminine.
Words used to describe same-sex love or same-sex sexual activity do not always translate into English very well.¬† Similarly, concepts and terminology used for transgender people and people with atypical gender expressions do not always translate into English very well.
In many Western cultures, same-sex love and sexual activity are not seen simply as behaviors.¬† They are often part of the way people identify themselves.¬†
In the U.S., the concept of transgender identity is different from the concepts of gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity.¬† These terms are not interchangeable¬†
Here is a list of several terms you might hear or use in the U.S.
Sexual Orientation:¬†a person‚Äôs emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction and often the expression of that attraction.¬† Sexual orientation is not necessarily the same as sexual behavior.
Sexual identity: The way a person views and identifies their sexual orientation.
Gender identity: A person‚Äôs sense of being masculine, feminine, in-between or androgynous.¬† It is important to recognize that this is independent from a person‚Äôs biological sex.
Gender identity vs. sexual¬†orientation:¬†Gender identity is distinct from sexual orientation.¬† Gender identity, the sense that one is a boy or a girl, is usually manifested by the age of 3 or 4 years.¬† Sexual orientation, the sense of which gender one is emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to, does not manifest itself until much later in life, usually after puberty and often not until full adulthood.¬†
Gender expression: The way in which an individual externally represents their gender identity and presents it to the world.
Heterosexual:a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of the other sex.
Homosexual:¬†A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of the same sex.¬† This term is less frequently used today by the lesbian and gay community due to the clinical origin of the term.
LGBT (QQIAA):¬†An abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, (queer, questioning, intersexed, asexual, ally).¬† This abbreviation is often used to represent the community as a whole.¬† The Q can also refer those who are questioning their sexual or gender orientation.)¬†
Lesbian:¬†A common term and acceptable term for those identifying as women who are emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to or committed to other women.¬† Not to be confused with women who have sex with women*
Gay:¬†Common and acceptable term for a man who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to or committed to other men.¬† Not to be confused with men who have sex with men*
‚ÄúGay‚ÄĚ is often used to refer to both men and women who are attracted to people of the same gender in much the same way that ‚Äúman‚ÄĚ can be used generically. Many object to the universal use of ‚Äúgay‚ÄĚ because of the sexist implications.
*The terms gay and lesbian refer to socially constructed identities which may or may not be applicable in a new cultural context.¬† There are many cultures in the world that do not equate a social identity to same-sex sexual behavior.¬† Some women, for example, who have sex with other women, do not consider or call themselves lesbian.¬† Likewise, some men who have sex with men, may not consider themselves gay.¬† In the African American community, you may hear the term ‚Äúon the down low‚ÄĚ for men who have sex with men.
Bisexual:¬†A person whose need for warmth, affection, and love can be satisfied by persons of either sex. Can include emotional, physical, and sexual connection.¬†
Transgender:¬†An umbrella term for persons who have a self image or gender identity not traditionally associated with their biological sex
There is no correlation between gender identity and sexual orientation. A transgender person may identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual.
Transgender:¬†A person whose gender identity is other than their biological sex. Transsexuals may wish to modify their bodies to be more congruent with their gender.
Transvestite:¬†A clinical term, often viewed as pejorative (negative). The preferred term is cross dresser.
Crossdresser:¬†A person who dresses on occasion in the clothing of the opposite gender. Cross dressers may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Drag:¬†Dressing in the clothing of the opposite gender, or in a manner different form how one will usually dress (i.e., corporate drag or military drag). Drag is often theatrical and often presents a stereotyped image. Individuals who dress in ‚Äúdrag‚ÄĚ may or may not consider themselves to be transgender. They may also identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Queer:¬†Different. Historically a negative term for a homosexual, queer is being reclaimed by many LGBT people as a source of pride and political identity. Many who choose to use the term feel that it is more inclusive, allowing for diversity of race, class, and gender that are represented in the LGBT community. Some older LGBT people find this term degrading.
Questioning: Someone who does not identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual‚ÄĒeither because they haven‚Äôt determined how best to identify themselves or simply because they do not wish to associate themselves with any one category.
The closet: LGBT persons who conceal their sexual and/or gender identity from others are said to be ‚Äúin the closet.‚ÄĚ For many gay men and lesbians, the closet becomes a place in which you live, unable to tell your secret.¬†
Coming out:¬†The act of telling another person that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. For many this is a continuing process, which occurs every time they meet someone new. Some choose never to come out to others.¬† The choice of when and how to tell another person about your sexual orientation.
Out:¬†To disclose a person‚Äôs sexual orientation or gender identity to another person; to be open regarding one‚Äôs sexual orientation or different gender identity in a given situation.
Ally:¬† A member of the dominant majority, in this case heterosexual, who works to end oppression.¬† LGBTQ allies confront heterosexism, homophobia, and heterosexual privilege in themselves and others out of self-interest, a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and a belief that heterosexism is a societal justice issue.
Intersexed:¬†A term used to describe a person whose sex chromosomes, genitalia and/or secondary sex characteristics are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female.
Asexual:¬†A person who has no evident sex or sex organs. In usage it may refer to a person who is not sexually active, or not sexually attracted to other persons.
Bias:¬†An inclination or preference, such that it interferes with impartial judgment.
Discrimination:¬†The act of showing partiality or prejudice; a prejudicial act.
Heterosexism:¬†Belief that heterosexuality is the only ‚Äúnatural‚ÄĚ sexuality and that it is inherently healthier or superior to other types of sexuality; the assumption that all people are and¬†should¬†be heterosexual; an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior; condones discriminatory practices and sometimes violence.¬† Heterosexism excludes the needs, concerns, and life experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people while it gives advantages to heterosexual people.¬† It is often a subtle form of oppression which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility for gays and lesbians.
Homophobia:¬†Irrational fear or hatred of lesbian, gay, or bisexual people; the responses of fear, disgust, anger, discomfort, and aversion that individuals experience in dealing with gay people; often it is manifest in the form of discrimination and prejudice.
Homophobia is also the fear of behaviors, beliefs, or attitudes of self or others which do not conform to rigid sex-role stereotypes.¬† It is a fear that enforces and is enforced by sexism. The extreme forms of homophobia are emotional, spiritual, and physical violence against LGBT individuals.¬† Homophobia creates unique developmental challenges for LGBTQ individuals otherwise not present, such as overcoming internalized homophobia and coming out.
Homophobia can occur anywhere- on personal, social, institutional, and societal levels.¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬† 1.Personal homophobia¬†is prejudice based on a personal belief that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are sinful, immoral, sick, or inferior to heterosexuals.
2.¬†Interpersonal homophobia¬†is individual behavior based on personal ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† homophobia.¬† This hatred or dislike may be expressed by name-calling, telling ¬† jokes, verbal and physical harassment.
3.¬†Institutional homophobia¬†refers to the many ways in which government, ¬†¬†¬†¬† businesses and churches discriminate against people on the basis of sexual ¬†¬†¬† orientation.
4.¬†Cultural/societal homophobia¬†refers to social standards which dictate that ¬† being heterosexual is better or more moral than being lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Internalized homophobia:¬†Internalized self-hatred or discomfort that gays and lesbians struggle with as a result of heterosexual prejudice. Persons who experience internalized homophobia accept and believe the negative messages of the dominant group as they relate to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people; the acceptance and internalization by members of oppressed groups of negative stereotypes and images of their group, beliefs of their own inferiority, and concomitant beliefs in the superiority of the dominant group.¬†
Transphobia:¬†Irrational fear or hatred of transgender people; the responses of fear, disgust, anger, discomfort, and aversion that individuals experience in dealing with transgender people; often it is manifest in the form of discrimination and prejudice.
Heterosexual privilege:¬†The basic civil rights and social privileges that heterosexual people automatically receives that are systematically denied to LGBT people simply because of their sexual orientation; the assumption that all people are heterosexual.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, International Student Services- 2009
Every culture has its own attitudes and beliefs about homosexuality, same-sex relationships, and gender non-conformity.¬† Now that you are attending school in the United States, you might find it useful to have a better understanding of how many Americans view homosexuality, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer individuals.
Can you tell if someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)?
It is impossible to tell people‚Äôs sexual orientation by their appearance.¬†Stereotypes can be misleading.¬† In fact, in the U.S., the majority of students in K-12 public schools who are targeted or labeled ‚Äúgay‚ÄĚ by their peers because of dress, speech, or other mannerisms are not gay.¬†Also, many individuals who are gay might look and express gender the same way as many of your ‚Äėstraight‚Äô or heterosexual friends.¬† Someone who is transgender may or may not identify as gay or lesbian.¬† Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation.
How many lesbians and gay men are there in the United States?
No one knows exactly how many lesbians and gay men there are in the U.S.¬† Not all LGBT people identify as LGBT. Some people choose not to label themselves.¬†Not all LGBT people that¬†do¬†identify as LGBT feel comfortable disclosing their sexual identity. Based on studies and survey results, it is estimated that 2% to 10% of the U.S. population is lesbian, gay or bisexual.¬†The U.S. department of health and human services estimates 2.5-3% of Americans are LGBT.¬† A recent government survey found that 4% of adults aged 18-45 identified as ‚Äėhomosexual‚Äô or ‚Äėbisexual.‚Äô¬† Similarly, CNN‚Äôs exit polling showed self-identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters at 4% of the voting population in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
According to the Williams Institute Dec. 2007 U.S. Census, there are almost 777,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. living in every county of every state.¬†¬†
How many lesbians, bisexuals and gay men are there in Wisconsin?
In 2005, there were more than 160,698 gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (single and coupled) living in Wisconsin.¬† There are about 15,000 gay couples raising an estimated 3,800 children in their homes.¬†http://www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute//publication
What causes homosexuality?
This is a common question.¬† Different cultures have different theories and beliefs.¬† In the U.S., there is no agreement on the answer to this question.¬† The American Psychological Association‚Äôs 2008 published brochure, titled "Answers to Your Questions For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation,"¬†states:
‚Äú‚Ä¶Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.‚ÄĚhttp://www.apa.org/topics/
Is being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender normal?
Homosexuality has existed throughout history and around the world.¬† Societies have responded differently throughout history to the presence of gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conformists (LGBTQ individuals). APA‚Äôs 2008 Statement on sexual orientation states that, ‚ÄúBoth heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras‚Ä¶. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding.‚ÄĚ¬† While there is evidence that homosexuality has existed throughout history, limitations placed on individuals‚Äô expression of sexuality as well as laws and cultural practices stigmatizing and discriminating against gay individuals have limited many people‚Äôs openness about their sexual orientation.¬† Cultural restrictions on gender expression and sexual orientation have also limited many heterosexuals‚Äô awareness of and recognition of gay individuals in their communities.¬†
Some famous LGBT individuals include Aristotle, Michelangelo, Virginia Woolf, Rudolf Nureyev, Frida Kahlo, Yukio Mishima, Georgina Beyer, Hiromasa Ando, and Martina Navratilova.¬† There are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals of every age, race, educational level, and socioeconomic class.
Is being gay, lesbian or bisexual healthy?
The American Psychological Association states that ‚Äú‚Ä¶homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or emotional problem.‚ÄĚ¬†¬†
In terms of physical health, all people who are sexually active risk being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including AIDS, regardless of their sexual orientation.¬† Information on safer sex is available at University Health Services.
Are gay individuals discriminated against?
In the U.S., some organizations and individuals discriminate overtly against gay people.¬† Federally, gay couples are not treated equally to married couples.¬† According to APA, ‚ÄúNumerous surveys indicate that verbal harassment and abuse are nearly universal experiences among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Also, discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in employment and housing appears to remain widespread.‚ÄĚ¬†
Homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people, similar to racism and sexism, exist to varying degrees in all parts of the United States, from personal to institutional levels of discrimination.¬† However, many organizations, businesses large and small, and millions of individuals are inclusive and accepting of gay individuals, both in policy and action, and the U.S. is becoming much more open to sexual diversity.¬†As of September 2013, gay couples can marry in 13 states and DC http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/marriage-center. Some states recognize marriages by same-sex couples entered into in another jurisdiction.¬† Many states provide some legal relationship recognition for same-sex partners and their dependents.¬† These laws can influence benefits such as state-regulated insurance, how benefits are taxed by the state, and whether or not Family and Medical Leave Act applies to domestic partners.¬† Currently,¬†some federal benefits are extended to married LGBT couples.¬†¬†In 2013, federal immigration law began recognizing same-sex marriages performed where it is legal.¬†¬† For information on LGBT rights by state, visit:¬†http://www.hrc.org/resources/category/marriage¬†¬†¬†
At UW-Madison, we have a policy of non-discrimination and limited domestic partner benefits.¬†
What is homophobia?
‚ÄúHomophobia‚ÄĚ is the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals.¬† People who are homophobic are often afraid to get to know lesbians and gays.¬† They are sometimes afraid that other people will think they are gay or lesbian.¬† Or, they worry that a gay or lesbian person may be attracted to them.¬† Homophobia creates unique developmental challenges for LGBTQ individuals otherwise not present, such as overcoming internalized homophobia and coming out.
Similarly, heterosexism is the belief that heterosexuality is the only ‚Äúnatural‚ÄĚ sexuality and that it is inherently healthier or superior to other types of sexuality.¬† Heterosexism makes the assumption that all people are and¬†should¬†be heterosexual.¬† It is an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behavior.
What is the impact of homophobia and prejudice on gay people?
‚ÄúThe widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence to which lesbians and gay men are often subjected are significant mental health concerns. Sexual prejudice, sexual orientation discrimination, and antigay violence are major sources of stress for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.‚ÄĚ- APA,¬†http://www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html#whatis
In other words, the negative attitudes, beliefs,social policies, and harmful behaviors of others toward LGBT individuals are often a major cause of LGBT individuals‚Äôstress or mental health concerns, rather than their sexual orientation by itself.
Why are gays, lesbians and bisexuals so public about their sexuality?¬† Isn‚Äôt this a private matter?
Some people in the U.S. think that LGBT individuals talk too much about their lives.¬† In the U.S., heterosexual couples often hold hands and even kiss in public.They commonly talk about boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives.¬†However, lesbians and gays cannot talk openly about their social lives without revealing their sexual orientation.¬†In speaking about their lives and relationships and in showing affection, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals only want the same freedom of expression that heterosexuals enjoy.¬†Cultures differ in how open individuals are about sexuality and intimate relationships in general.
Why does the issue of ‚Äėhomosexuality‚Äô get so much attention in the U.S.?
Historically, there have been many social movements for equal rights in the U.S.¬†For example, there have been movements to gain civil rights for women, black people, and people of different religions.¬†The gay rights movement is another example of people in the U.S. working together for civil rights.¬† Gay rights laws would help protect lesbians and gays from discrimination.
There is disagreement among organizations, religions, and individuals within the U.S. about how homosexuality should be addressed, with strong feelings on multiple sides of the issue.¬† Because of this, it has often become a political ‚Äúhot button‚ÄĚ issue used to mobilize individuals with different beliefs and positions on how gay individuals should be treated.¬† Some call the gay rights movement an example of the ‚Äúculture wars‚ÄĚ between ‚Äėconservative‚Äô and ‚Äėliberal‚Äô leaning groups in the U.S.¬† It is an issue that often divides not only large organizations and states, but often families and communities.
Movements for civil rights require legal reform. This process creates a lot of debate and gets media attention.
How do issues of homosexual rights and discrimination affect me if I‚Äôm heterosexual?
As a university student in the U.S., you may meet lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgender individuals.¬† They may be your classmates, your instructors, and possibly your friends.¬† You will often read or hear about the issues of gay rights and discrimination against gay people.¬† If you know about these issues, you will be better able to understand the LGBT people you meet.
Also, UW-Madison promotes and values an inclusive campus environment in which no one is discriminated based on sexual orientation, gender, nationality.¬†
What if I am gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or not sure?
If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, or exploring your sexuality and gender, there are many resources available to you on our website:¬†http://www.iss.wisc.edu
* Some materials adapted from NAFSA Rainbow SIG Advising Resources.