LGBTQI – What Do All the Letters Mean?

LGBTQI – What Do All the Letters Mean? Chris Purcell, Director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Life, offers insight on LGBTQI meanings and explores the services offered at the K.C. Potter Center in hopes of offering education and encouraging dialogue across the the Vanderbilt University and Medical Center campuses.

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Rosemary Cope: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Rosemary Cope with Work/Life Connections. I am here today with Christopher Purcell who is the Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, & Intersex Life. The office is located within The K.C. Potter Center, a cultural center and a place of affirmation for individuals of all identities. It is a resource for students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Chris is a graduate of Western New England University and holds a Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of Vermont. He has been on staff at Vermont, Duke University, and Berklee College of Music. He is currently pursuing his Ed.D. in Higher Education Policy and Leadership at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Today, we are highlighting the services offered at The K.C. Potter Center in hopes of offering education and encouraging dialogue across the Vanderbilt Campus and Medical Center. Welcome Chris. Christopher Purcell: Thanks for having me. I am glad to be here. Rosemary Cope: Many people are confused by all the letters. Most know LGB maybe and maybe the T, but have no idea what the Q and the I+ or anything else really stands for. So, would you educate the listeners on understanding basic LGBTQI terminology including the use of pronouns? Christopher Purcell: Sure, absolutely, so, I think most folks are familiar with the ‘L’ and ‘G,’ so lesbian and gay. Lesbian is someone who identifies a woman and who is usually attracted mostly to other folks that identifies women, and gay is the same, probably the equivalent for men, although gay is sometimes used as an umbrella term. Bisexual, there is some misunderstanding for sure about bisexuality. It is the person who experiences sexual, romantic, or physical. They experience attraction to folks of their own gender as well as other genders, not necessarily at the same time in the same way or to the same degree, but they experience that attraction. That is about sexual orientation and we are talking about gender identity. Transgender is simply a term for someone whose gender identity is other than what is expected based on their sex or gender assigned at birth. So, it does not necessarily mean someone wants to go through any sort of change. It just means their gender identity is different. In fact, most transgender folks do not desire, do not go through any kind of surgery necessary, and that is a common misconception. Rosemary Cope: Yeah, because I think lots of people assume that “Oh, if I feel this way, then I want to have some sort of surgery.” Christopher Purcell: Right, and some do and some do not that does make them trans or not trans as what we say. So for queer, queer was of course a word that historically, and sometimes today, was used as a harmful tool against LGBTQI+ folks, but it has been really reclaimed as a word that can explain the complicated nature of identity with just one word. So, sometimes it is used as an umbrella term for all things LGBTQI and that I say the queer community rather than spouting off letters, other times just used in an academic context. You will hear queer theory and queer theology that really allows our students, faculty, and staff have a term that illustrates they are part of the community without having to go in all the tiny specifics about who they are. Rosemary Cope: And it seems to me that they are some people that have really wanted to reclaim that word so that it does not sound like a slur. Christopher Purcell: And, it is still used as a slur for some context and not all LGBT+ folks are really comfortable with the term still, but a lot of youth and lot of folks who are more interested in the activist world are really reclaiming the word . So, use with caution, but it is a word that is out there. And intersex, ‘I,’ is really a person born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard for male or female.” Intersex folks can present in a variety of different gender identities, and it is actually a lot more common occurring than folks think. It is about as common as the naturally occurring redhead, and just because that sounds intersex it can mean a variety of things about their gender identity. It is really important to know that all of these categories, your sex orientation, or your sexual identity who you are attracted to and who you are and your gender identity are completely separate, and they are not necessarily the same thing, and that is important to know. Rosemary Cope: Can you say maybe a little bit more about that? Christopher Purcell: Sure, so, I mean just because someone identifies with the certain gender or gender identity just because they hold the transgender identity it does not necessary mean they are attracted to one gender or another or all the genders. Really, the two are separate, and these things are really complicated which is why sometimes you could see that + on the end of these acronyms because it really illustrates that there is a lot of complex nature of all the stuff and really illustrating just a few letters is not really enough, particularly for students who are experiencing fluidity in a variety different context at a time, particularly around the identity issues. You asked about pronoun. For most of us, we are familiar with using pronouns he, him, his or she, her, hers, but if you are not necessarily willing to subscribe to a particular gender identity, if you’re gender-nonconforming or transgender, then maybe those pronouns hitting your ears do not necessary feel good to describe who you are. LGBT folks but particularly transgender and gender-nonconforming folks have found other pronouns to use. They are becoming more and more common. They, them, their are the most common, and there are others sets of pronouns that we can go into. It is really not important that you know all the pronouns or the identities or all the terminology. What is most important in all of this is that you mirror the language that someone uses to describe himself back to them. Whether it be name, whether it be pronoun, whether it be gender identity. However those folks call themselves, you call that back to them to honor their dignity as humans. That is the most important part, rather than knowing every letter and every term and every pronoun than ever was. Rosemary Cope: What times of services, Chris, are available to all of the Vanderbilt family, faculty staff, medical center, and University? Christopher Purcell: We have obviously a lot more for students, but for our faculty and staff we definitely have high attendees of faculty and staff and staff that are major speakers. We help academic departments bring academic speakers, as well as more sort of pop-culture figures who identify within the community, and those are open to all faculty, staff, and students. So, I encourage folks to hop on our list serve which you can find in our website and get on that list serve so that you can see all the different speakers coming in. We do a monthly newsletter for faculty and staff specifically that has the events that are more tailored toward them. We also have lots of training opportunities for faculty and staff. We do a PRIDE training which is a 3-hour training about how to be more supportive and inclusive for LGBTQI+ folks. We have a Straight Facts session which is a 1 hour sort of general overview of terminology and how to be inclusive that we bring to academic departments to train across for staff meetings. We have done a lot of staff meetings in fact for different folks. We also do Speak Out panels. We bring LGBTQI students, faculty and staff to your staff meeting to talk about their experiences of being out at Vanderbilt and that sometimes is really great for folks to hear those experiences. We are also happy to meet with folks and connect them to Nashville resources. We have a lot of plug-ins to the Nashville LGBT+ community, and we are happy to make those referrals for people that are looking for community or fun or academic discourse outside of the Vanderbilt walls. Rosemary Cope: How can Vanderbilt faculty or staff support their co-workers and how can they be allies or advocates for the people that they work with whether it is an academic department or the medical center? Christopher Purcell: Any opportunity you have to read something to educate yourself on terminology, to educate yourself on the real things that are the real political and social aspects of being LGBTQI that are still affecting folks today, despite marriage equality. There are still a lot of political issues. There are still a lot of policy issues to work on understanding, and gaining knowledge about. That stuff is really, really important. So, _just finding opportunities to learn more. Then support folks, find ways to step up when others are not doing the right thing around this stuff to really support and affirm, because I believe that our students at Vanderbilt are best supported when we have not only LGBTQI faculty and staff around but also supportive folks who are there to make sure that their experiences are the same, Rosemary Cope: Chris, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate the information and we are looking forward to reading more about it and contacting your resources. If we would like to contact to you or one of your staff members, can you tell us what your number is and your website? Christopher Purcell: Sure, our website is and our number is (615) 322-3330. Rosemary Cope: Thank you. Christopher Purcell: Thanks for having me. Rosemary Cope: Thank you for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast by clicking the “Add New Comment” link at the bottom of this page. If you have a story or a suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the “Contact Us” link on our website at -- end of recording --