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What are sexual orientation and gender

Sexual orientation and gender identity are two of the legally protected characteristics. The social and cultural context of these characteristics has changed and evolved as society has better understood the diversity of our world.

Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Sexual orientation is not related to gender identity (WHO definition). There are many forms of sexual orientation and the main identities of lesbian, gay and bisexual and heterosexual reflect just a portion of the diverse ways in which people self-identify their sexual orientation and this is often reflected by using the term LGB+.

Sexual orientation is not the same as sexual behaviour and at times researchers will use terms such as ‘men who have sex with men’ to focus on behaviour rather than focusing on sexual identity terms such as ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’, which is an important difference when assessing evidence and research.

Gender identity reflects a deeply felt and experienced sense of one’s own gender. A person’s gender identity is typically consistent with the sex assigned to them at birth. It is widely understood that gender identity, like sexual identity/orientation, is not static and limited to male/female identities, but rather exists on a spectrum. This means that an individual’s gender identity is not necessarily confined to an identity that is completely male or completely female. When an individual’s gender identity differs from their assigned sex, they are commonly considered to be transgender, gender fluid, and/or gender queer (WHO definition). In the UK we often use the term trans or trans+ as an umbrella for the many different forms of gender identities which sit outside of the binary male and female terms.

We recognise that there are important and distinct differences between difference communities within the LGBT+ population and like ethnic groups these populations are often grouped together in research to the detriment of these differences.

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