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Sexual Orientation and Gender

Sexual orientation

​​Sexual orientation describes your emotional or sexual attraction to others. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing.

For many people, sexual orientation may change over time. Sexual orientation may not always reflect sexual behaviours.

What are sexual orientations?

Terms to describe sexual orientations include:

  • straight (heterosexual) – emotionally or sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex or gender
  • gay – emotionally or sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender (The term is most often used for a man who’s emotionally or sexually attracted to men.)
  • lesbian – a woman who’s emotionally or sexually attracted to women (Some women may also identify as being gay.)
  • bi or bisexual – emotionally or sexually attracted to both men and women
  • pansexual – emotionally or sexually attracted to any gender or sex
  • asexual – not sexually attracted to others and may or may not be emotionally or romantically attracted others

The word homosexual is outdated. And some people who are emotionally or sexually attracted to people of the same sex may also find the term insulting (offensive). When you talk about people who are attracted to members of the same sex or gender, it’s best to say gay or lesbian.

People may use other terms to describe their sexual orientation (such as demisexual or omnisexual). If you don’t understand, ask what that term means to them.

What does it mean to be an ally?

You might also hear the word ally when people talk about sexual orientation. An ally is someone who advocates for (supports) the human rights of sexual- and gender-minority people by challenging discrimination and heterosexism.

  • Discrimination is an act (such as a practice, comment, or behaviour) that treats someone in a way they don’t want to be treated based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, ancestry, race, age, disability, marital status (such as being married or single), family status, or source of income.
  • Heterosexism is discrimination against someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two-Spirit (2S), or other sexual orientation or gender. Heterosexism is a bias as it assumes that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation.
  • Cissexism is prejudice or discrimination against someone whose gender is different than what is assigned at birth, such as transgender, non-binary, gender queer, or Two-Spirit.

You’re not alone

If you have questions about your sexual orientation or gender identity, it can be comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you’re going through.

You can find local and online support groups. If you don’t know where to find support:

  • talk to someone you trust and feel safe with, such as your friends, family members, teachers, school counsellors, co-workers, or healthcare providers​

  • look for LGBTQ2S+ clubs and organizations where you live
  • contact churches and faith-based communities that welcome LGBTQ2S+ members​

  • look for web sites and online organizations that welcome LGBTQ2S+ members

The following organizations offer support:

Current as of: December 18, 2020

Author: Diversity and Inclusion, AHS