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Pride 2024: Understanding the Difference Between Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing—they are distinct aspects of being a person. Children have a sense of their gender from about ages 3–5, and people develop a sexual orientation as they mature. 

Sexual orientation is the emotional/physical attraction to men, women or both sexes. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Some who do not identify as either male or female prefer the term “gender nonbinary” or “genderqueer.” 

Some people do not like to identify using these labels at all. And that’s ok too. The way someone describes themselves in regards to gender identity and sexual orientation is a personal choice. It shouldn’t be something that one is forced into choosing based on outside influences or factors within their community.  

Important Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions 

Here are a few important definitions when speaking about gender identity and sexual orientation: 

Sexual orientation: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people. Note: an individual’s sexual orientation is independent of their gender identity. 

Gender identity: One's innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.  

Gender expression: External appearance of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, body characteristics or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.  

Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.  

Gender transition: The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.  

Gender dysphoria: Clinically significant distress caused when a person's assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify.  

Exploring Asexuality People who identify as asexual don’t really feel sexual attraction towards anyone. They may think other people are physically attractive, or they may want to be in romantic relationships with people — but they’re not interested in having sex or doing sexual things with other people.  

Your sexual orientation and identity can stay the same, or it can change based on how you feel throughout your life. You don’t have to decide on one label, or any label at all. And there’s no reason why the labels you use can’t change as you change.  

Talking About the LGBTQ+ Community with Youth

We’ve put together a helpful checklist on how to discuss LGBTQ+ issues with kids:  

● Be Honest: Kids like to ask a lot of questions, some that may be more difficult to answer. It’s important to stay honest and lead from a place of sensitivity.

● Find Teachable Moments: Whether this is in real life, in tv or social media, use examples to ask your child what their thoughts are on certain issues/topics

● Praise Openness: Refrain from being critical if your child has questions or chooses to express themselves differently from you.

● Look to sources like for more helpful information on the topic.