Frequently Asked Questions

How did the rainbow flag become a gay symbol?

In 1978 Gilbert Baker proposed the idea of a rainbow flag to the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in response to their request for a symbol that could be used every year. Today, the rainbow flag continues to be a symbol for the colorful diversity, optimism, and strength of the gay rights movement worldwide.

Why is a pink triangle considered a symbol of gay rights?

The pink triangle, the most widely recognized of all gay symbols, was derived from Nazi Death camps in WWII. Gay men were forced to wear pink triangles to mark them, as Jews wore the yellow Star of David. The gay power movement adopted the triangle to turn a symbol of degradation into one of pride. Lesbians, who were not singled out in the camps, were sometimes arrested as prostitutes and forced to wear the black triangle worn by those branded as criminals.

What does "lambda" mean?

In the early 1970s, in the wake of the Stonewall Rebellion (in which gays fought back for the first time against police harassment and repression), New York City's Gay Activists Alliance selected the Greek letter lambda as its emblem. Since then the lambda letter has spread throughout the world as a frequent symbol for gay rights organizations, such as the Lambda Legal Defense Fund (a gay rights legal services organization).

What do the letters LGBT(QIA) mean?

This is a handy acronym that summarizes the main constituent groups within the overall "Gay Community." Specifically, the so-called Gay Community includes Lesbian women, Gay men, Bisexual people of both genders, Transgender people, Questioning people who aren't sure about their sexuality, Intersexual people who have physical features of both sexes, and Allies who are heterosexual and support gay rights.

What does "transgender" refer to?

Although there is much variation in how the word is defined, most people use "transgender" to refer to individuals whose gender identity doesn't fit into the usual rigid male/female categories. Note that the word "transvestite" has a different, much more specific meaning (referring specifically to the practice of cross-dressing—i.e. men or women, whether straight or gay, who wear clothing associated with the opposite gender.

Why is lavender often associated with the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights movements?

Connections between purple and ancient gay stories and traditions indicate that lavender has considerably more significance than the mixture of "female red" and "male blue" colors. Purple represents, brings about, and is present during radical transformation from one state of being to another.

Isn't the word "queer" an insult? How can using "queer" be a sign of pride?

It is used to be an insult all right, but we're taking the word back, using it to refer to ourselves in a non-insulting way, in order to take away others' power to hurt us. "Queer" is also a very useful word because it is so inclusive. It is much easier to talk about the Queer community, for example, than to keep saying Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender or LGBT.

Why are you gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender?

The general consensus in Psychology and Medicine is that genetic factors probably do play some role in determining sexual orientation. This genetic background is then accompanied by environmental factors such as the culture you grow up in, your parents' education and beliefs, your religion, whether you meet gay friends in your youth, etc. etc. etc.—factors that shape this (perhaps only somewhat) predetermined orientation, either smothering it or letting it unfold. It is rather true to say that your sexual orientation is a natural, and important, part of who you are.

Can "conversion therapy" change sexual orientation?

No. The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders. Two years later, the American Psychological Association resolved to support the removal. Ever since, both associations have urged all mental health professionals to help dispel the stigma of mental illness associated with homosexual orientation.

Why do some gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals tell people about their sexual orientation?

They tell about it because sharing that aspect of themselves with others is important to their mental health. In fact, the process of identity development for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, called coming out, has been found to be strongly related to psychological adjustment—the more positive the gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity, the better one's mental health and the higher one's self-esteem.

Are all gay and bisexual men HIV infected?

No. This is a commonly held myth. In reality, the risk of exposure to HIV is related to a person's behavior, not his or her sexual orientation. What's important to remember about HIV/AIDS is that it can be prevented by using safe sexual practices and by not using drugs.

What is cross dressing?

The desire to wear the clothing of the other sex is independent of one's sexual preference. Many gay, bisexual, and heterosexual men like to wear women's clothing in private or in public and may even fantasize on occasion about becoming a woman. Most, however, have no desire to actually change their sex. These men are called crossdressers or transvestites, although the latter term has fallen out of favor. Women also crossdress, and in larger numbers than has previously been acknowledged.