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Queer Code 101

In case you're new here

Sometimes it feels like we're speaking a different language.

Like the colors of the rainbow, the LGBTQ+ lexicon is just as colorful from A to Z. This queer glossary for newbies is your crash course in all things slang, history, and pop culture that have defined and shaped our community. Each generation and decade brings us more ways to speak and connect as a culture. Here are some of the essentials we think you should know if this world still feels brand new to you and your journey. 


ACT UP

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, a direct action activism group formed in New York City in 1987 to bring awareness and justice to those impacted by the AIDS epidemic.

Andy Warhol

The King of Pop Art. Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, superstars. One of the most recognizable artists in human history, born and raised in Pittsburgh.

Angels in America

A landmark work of theater written by Tony Kushner. This Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama depicts gay life and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Anita Bryant

An anti-gay activist, beauty queen, and orange juice promoter who endorsed Florida’s “Save Our Children” campaign. She was iconically pied in the face on television by a gay man, Thom L. Higgins, in 1977.

Audre Lorde

A self-described “black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, mother, warrior, poet”. Wrote amazing works such as Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Ballroom

An underground subculture formed by the Black and Latino community where contestants walk and perform in certain categories that frequently involve gender and social class pageantry. Categories include femme queen, voguing, and face.

Bear

Typically a large, hairy gay man. “It’s bear night at the bar, do you want to come with me?”

Billy Porter

Tony, Grammy, and the first openly gay black lead actor Emmy award winner born and raised in Pittsburgh. Most known for his work as Lola in Kinky Boots the musical and Pray Tell in Pose.

Blue Moon

A famed gay bar on Butler Street in Lawrenceville known for its drag performances.

Butch

Typically a lesbian who expresses gender in a more masculine way. Popular butch characters in media include Lea Delaria as Big Boo from Orange is the New Black, Queen Latifah as Cleo in Set it Off, and Gina Gershon as Corky in Bound.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

An official United States discriminatory ban on LGBTQ+ individuals openly serving in the military originally instituted in 1993 under the Clinton Administration. It was repealed in 2011.

Drag Queens/Kings

Artists who subvert and perform gender through the use of makeup, costume, lip sync performances, theatricality, dance, and more.

Dykes on Bikes

A legendary lesbian motorcycle club whose first chapter was originally formed in 1976 in San Francisco. They are most known for frequently leading Pride parades.

The Fruit Loop

A hallowed cruising spot within Schenley Park. “I hooked up with this total hottie who was driving a red truck at the Fruit Loop.”

The Golden Girls

A sitcom starring Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. The lives of these four iconic women living in Miami, Florida casually and openly depicted LGBTQ characters on primetime NBC from 1985-1992.

Harvey Milk

The first openly gay man elected to public office in California. He served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated by fellow supervisor, Dan White. His story has been depicted in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and Academy Award-winning film Milk. The murder trial introduced:

            “Twinkie Defense”
Dan White used depression caused by a symptomatic change in diet to the sugary snack cake Twinkies as his defense.

Hieeeee

a greeting for all occasions as coined by Pittsburgh’s Alaska Thunderf*ck on Season 5 of Rupaul’s Drag Race. See also: Bieeeee

“I Will Survive”

A gay disco anthem by Gloria Gaynor released in 1978. A song about perseverance, determination, and exuberant theatricality.

James Baldwin

Vital gay writer and civil rights activist. Some of his most notable works include The Fire Next Time, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Keith Haring

Pop Artist born in Pennsylvania whose signature line drawing characters were used as activism in campaigns for safer sex, AIDS, and the crack epidemic.

Lucky’s

A true Pittsburgh gay institution. This bar and dance club, known for its stripper boys on the bar, has stood resolute on Penn Ave for over 30 years in the face of the rapidly changing Strip District.

Marsha P Johnson

A hero of the gay liberation movement and key figure during the Stonewall Uprising. She was known as the “mayor of Christopher Street”. Along with Sylvia Rivera, she formed STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

Moonlight

Best Picture Academy Award winner from 2016 directed by Barry Jenkins and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. It depicts the coming of age of a gay black man in Florida.

Mother

Judy Garland. Cher. Diana Ross. An iconic diva who transcends this realm and speaks directly to one’s soul. A megawatt star worthy of worship, who has “raised” you. “I have Lady Gaga’s new single on repeat. She’s mother.”

My Good Judy

A term of endearment used to describe a trusted friend, safe space, or good ally. It’s a reference to Judy Garland, a well-known supporter of the LGBTQ community in her time. In the 1950s and 1960s, Garland acted as an unofficial mascot for a generation of gay men, who referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy”.

Pegasus

Formerly one of the most popular gay nightlife venues in Pittsburgh. Located downtown on Liberty Avenue, it operated from 1980 through 2012.

Pink Triangle

A reclaimed symbol for the LGBTQ community that was originally used by the Nazis to signify and exterminate queer individuals .

Pride Flags (then and now)

The first pride flag was created in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. It featured eight colored stripes each with a specific meaning (Hot pink for Sex, Red for Life, Orange for Healing, Yellow for Sunlight, Green for Nature, Turquoise for Magic/Art, Indigo for Serenity, Violet for Spirit). The Progress Flag, created by Daniel Quasar in 2018, features a pennant intersecting the rainbow for colors representing the Trans and BIPOC communities.

Read

A sharp-tongued comeback that is equal parts insulting and clever. Originates from Ballroom culture.

RENT

A groundbreaking rock musical written by Jonathon Larson that depicted the lives of queer people, HIV-positive individuals, and bohemians in 1990s New York City. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Musical.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

A unabashedly queer and gender-bending horror musical film that spawned legendary late-night screenings known for their rowdy audience participation and live-shadow cast.

RuPaul Charles

The Queen of Drag. From the Atlanta, Georgia to New York City night clubs, RuPaul built a hard-earned empire that has included hosting a talk show on VH1 in the late 1990s and of course hosting RuPaul’s Drag Race currently on its 16th American season with legions of international franchises. RuPaul holds the record for most Emmy wins for a person of color and is overall the most awarded host in television history.

Stonewall Uprising

A pivotal turning point in the gay liberation movement that took place at the Stonewall Bar in New York City in June 1969 after police raids led by trans activists.

Sylvia Rivera

An outspoken activist for transgender people, people of color, and gay liberation at-large primarily in New York City during the 1960s and 70s. Along with Marsha P. Johnson, she formed STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). “We have to be visible. We are not ashamed of who we are.”

Twink

A slim, young gay. “I seriously have to stop falling in love with all of these twinks.”

The Village People

A music group with hits like, “YMCA” and “In The Navy”, featuring characters that subverted stereotypical American macho, male masculinity from the cop and cowboy to the construction worker and biker.

Who’s Your Gay Icon?

Drew Praskovich is a writer and filmmaker born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Drew's work for QBurgh has been nominated for a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. His short film, Seahorse, about a pregnant boy, has been screened around the world from the South Asia's biggest LGBQTIA+ film festival KASHISH Mumbai to NFFTY in Seattle, WA where it took home the Audience Award. His writing has been seen in TABLE Magazine, The Pittsburgh City Paper, and more. He currently resides in Beechview. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. (he / him / his)