Frequently Asked Questions About the LGBTQI+ Community
Adapted from sources provided by the United Nations for LGBT Equality, Human Rights Watch, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and the American Psychological Association.
- How are sexual orientation and gender identity determined?
- How does someone know they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?
- What are homophobia and transphobia?
- Are there LGBTQI+ people in all countries?
- Have LGBTQI+ people always existed?
- What kinds of challenges do members of the LGBTQI+ community face?
- Is it possible to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity?
- Does being around LGBTQI+ people or learning about them have a negative impact on children?
- Can LGBTQI+ people be good parents?
- How can I be a good ally to members of the LGBTQI+ community?
How are sexual orientation and gender identity determined?
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a sexual orientation. Experts agree that all aspects of sexuality are due to a combination of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors. For most people, sexual orientation and gender identity are shaped at any early age. While research has not determined a cause, homosexuality and gender variance are not the result of any one factor, such as parenting or past experiences. Most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.
How does someone know they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?
Some people say that they have "felt different" or knew they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were very young. Some transgender people talk about feeling from an early age that their gender identity did not match parental and social expectations. Others do not discover their sexual orientation or gender identity until they are adolescents or adults, or people's feelings may change over time. With better understandings of LGBTQI+ people and more diversity and inclusion in different parts of the world, it is becoming easier for people to identify their feelings.
What are homophobia and transphobia?
Homophobia is an irrational fear or hatred of lesbian, gay or bisexual people; transphobia denotes an irrational fear or hatred of transgender people. Because the term homophobia is widely understood, it is often used in an all-encompassing way to refer to fear, hatred and aversion towards LGBTQI+ people in general.
Are there LGBTQI+ people in all countries?
Yes. LGBTQI+ people exist everywhere, in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels and in all communities. Claims that same-sex attraction is strictly a Western practice are false. However, many of the criminal laws used today to punish LGBTQI+ people are Western in origin.
Have LGBTQI+ people always existed?
Yes. LGBTQI+ people have always been a part of our communities. There are examples from every locality and time-period, from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature. Many societies have traditionally been open towards LGBTQI+ people, including several societies that have recognized a third gender.
What kinds of challenges do members of the LGBTQI+ community face?
People around the world face violence and inequality because of their LGBTQI+ status. In some countries, same-sex relations can be punishable by prison sentences or death; in other cases, despite the lack of legal punishments for being LGBTQI+, such individuals are still the targets of homophobic and transphobic violence, including verbal harassment, discrimination in employment, and lack of access to desired health care. Many schools, work environments, and public spaces do not have policies in place to protect queer people or to guarantee their equal treatment. The discrimination many LGBTQI+ people face can put them at greater risk for emotional health struggles like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.
Is it possible to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity?
No. A person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity cannot be changed. Attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation often involve human rights violations and can cause severe trauma. Examples include forced psychiatric therapies intended to “cure” individuals of their same-sex attraction, as well as any so-called “corrective” behaviors perpetrated on queer-identifying people. Being LGBTQI+ is not a mental disorder and attempting to treat these orientations as such can be extremely damaging.
Does being around LGBTQI+ people or learning about them have a negative impact on children?
No. Learning about or spending time with people who are LGBTQI+ does not influence the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors, nor can it harm their wellbeing. Denial of this kind of information contributes to stigma and can cause young LGBTQI+ people to feel isolated and depressed, forcing some to drop out of school and contributing to higher rates of suicide.
Can LGBTQI+ people be good parents?
Yes. Science has shown that the concerns often raised about children of LGBTQI+ parents, concerns that are generally grounded in prejudice against and stereotypes about queer people, are unfounded. Overall, the research indicates that the children of queer parents do not differ markedly from the children of heterosexual/cisgender parents in their development, adjustment or overall well-being.
How can I be a good ally to members of the LGBTQI+ community?
Those who wants to help reduce prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQI+ people can examine their own responses to antigay stereotypes and prejudice. They can make a point of coming to know queer people personally, and they can work with queer-identifying individuals and communities to combat prejudice and discrimination. Heterosexual/cisgender people can advocate for LGBTQI+ rights and issues by asking others to consider the prejudicial or discriminatory nature of their beliefs and actions; they can also encourage nondiscrimination policies in schools and workplaces. When allies help make it safe for LGBTQI+ people to be open about who they are, more people have a chance to have personal contact with openly queer people and to perceive them as individuals.