A Guide to the LGBTQ+ Culture in the U.S.

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5.6% of Americans identified as LGBT in 2021.

The percentage might seem small, but it accounts for nearly nine million people.

That’s only based on those who have openly clarified their identity. 

Nevertheless, the numbers are increasing as younger generations strive to voice their uniqueness.

If you’ve never met anyone who’s part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s time for you to know who they are.

Defining LGBTQ+

The following terms are commonly used to describe members of the LGBTQ+ community:

  • Lesbian – Women attracted to women.
  • Gay – Typically, men who are attracted to men. Also used as an overarching term for same-sex attraction. Fun fact: Ellen DeGeneres’s declaration “Yep, I’m Gay” on Time magazine’s cover in 1997 is one of the first milestone moments of LGBTQ+ popularization.
  • Bisexual – Someone attracted to their gender as well as the opposite gender.
  • Transgender – A person who associates with a different gender identity from their biological one. Trans women are born as men and identify as women. Vice versa for trans men.
  • Queer – Anyone who conforms to neither heterosexual nor cisgender norms. All LGBTQ+ people can identify as queer. 
  • The + encompasses all other sexual and gender expressions. They range from asexual to pansexual, nonbinary, and gender-fluid.

While some aspects may seem common, the different terms and orientations are not interchangeable. Rather, LGBTQ+ beliefs are rooted in everyone finding their own place in the world, and not putting people in the wrong boxes.

Prominence in the U.S.

LGBTQ+ people have had a tumultuous past. Historically, they’ve been shunned by religious groups and other institutions, subjected to behavioral therapy, and discriminated against by much of society.

LGBTQ+ advocacy in the U.S. came into the limelight with riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn. The uprising at the gay bar, which was a safe space for queer people back in 1969, resulted from a brutal police raid. It wasn’t the first harassment that community members faced, but it inspired retaliation and solidarity like never before. 

Following the riots, LGBTQ+ movements were on the rise. The community gained political encouragement, and saw the advent of activist organizations.

Rights and Issues

Until the 21st century, LGBTQ+ relationships were not only frowned upon, but also illegal. The first same-sex marriage in the U.S. happened in 2004. It wasn’t until 2015 that it was legalized throughout the country.

In 2020, a third of the LGBTQ+ population said they felt discriminated against. People have been victimized by multiple acts of discrimination between judgment and violence in the workplace and otherwise. 

Healthcare access has been a huge barrier to LGBTQ+ living. Personal turmoil and social stigma have both contributed to it. When AIDS was initially discovered, it was named GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), because of its occurrence in gay men. To this day, trans people are struggling for acceptance and representation.

Structural limitations cause other day-to-day hurdles. Public facilities like washrooms are primarily categorized as male or female. Companies don’t offer the same domestic partner benefits or parental leave policies as they do for straight couples. LGBTQ+ people are constantly having to explain themselves, or are restricted from free speech.

Commemoration and Pride

The problems are real, but not without positive results. Many noteworthy days have been marked throughout the year nationally and globally, celebrating individual identities as well as the community as a whole.  

  • Day of Silence – April 12
  • International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia – May 17
  • LGBTQ+ Pride Month – June
  • International Non-Binary People’s Day – July 14
  • Celebrate Bisexuality Day – September 23
  • LGBT History Month – October
  • National Coming Out Day – October 11
  • Spirit Day – October 20
  • Intersex Awareness Day – October 26
  • Transgender Day of Remembrance – November 20
  • World AIDS Day – December 1

The most popular of these is Pride Month. The name evolved over the years as different U.S. presidents declared monikers to suit the time. As of 2021, Joe Biden proclaimed it ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month.’ 

Pride Month falls in June, in memory of the Stonewall riots. Though the backstory isn’t happy, Pride is a period for rejoicing. It is symbolized by rainbows, and celebrated with parades.

Pride parades held across the country draw crowds annually. The inaugural parade was held in 1970 on the first anniversary of the riots. The largest, Stonewall 50 – World Pride NYC 2019, had over five million people gather for the 50th anniversary.

Parade participants embody ‘loud and proud.’ Flamboyance and self-expression through color are the central themes. Apart from marching, events include live entertainment, bar hopping, street fairs, runs, and rallies.

Being an Ally

If you’re reading this, you’re probably new to LGBTQ+ ethos. But by now, you know that belonging to this community is no easy feat.

Allies can be described as cisgender and heterosexual people who support LGBTQ+ individuals and groups. You don’t need to take up arms to show it. What you can and shouldn’t do as an ally is simple enough to follow daily.   


1.       Listen with love

The greatest gift you can give anyone is time and attention. That’s exactly what your LGBTQ+ friends need.

When someone wants to talk about their identity, hear what they share without judgment. Coming out is an internal battle; your kindness and reassurance can make it easier on the outside. 

2.       Ask for and use correct pronouns

No, not everyone is “he” or “she.” Recognize that transgender, gender-fluid, or nonconforming people might not go by traditional pronouns.  

“What do I call them then?” Call them what they want to be called.

Many prefer to be referred to as they/them, or combinations of both masculine/feminine and singular/plural pronouns. Some may just want to go by their name.

3.       When in doubt, clear it out

If you’re unsure about how to respond to something, admit it. Find out what would be a fitting answer before presuming.

Accepting that you don’t always know the right thing to say is far better than blurting out the wrong words that could offend somebody. Your willingness to learn will speak volumes instead.


1.       Jump to conclusions

Never assume that a person belongs to the LGBTQ+ community based on their appearance or behavior. If they are, they’ll let you know. If they don’t address it, you don’t need to either.

Trying to guess what they identify as, brushing off what they tell you, or treating them differently for it is just as bad.

2.       Use inappropriate words or stereotypes

Stay away from derogatory phrases, commenting on people’s choices, and succumbing to misinformation. The term “homosexual” is offensive, and even boycotted by some media moguls.

Many other terms are unacceptable too, despite being commonly used. We’re so attuned to texting slang and pop culture jargon that we may not realize their insensitivity if they slip out in real life.

Unintentionality isn’t an excuse for ignorance.  

3.       Dig for details

Just like for any straight and cisgender person, LGBTQ+ relationships are personal. Not everyone needs to be in one, and if they are, it’s not your business to know the details of it.

Understanding perspectives and experiences is one thing; asking crude and intimate questions is downright uncomfortable. Don’t be nosy. 

Awareness about the LGBTQ+ community is the first step to acknowledging their importance in a melting pot like the U.S. You’ve now successfully taken that step.

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