What does the 'B' in LGBTQ stand for? The difference between bisexuality and pansexuality.

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Millions of Americans identify as LGBTQ, and around 20% of Gen Z are part of the LGBTQ community according to a 2023 Gallup poll. As the fight for LGBTQ rights continues, Gen Z is the most likely generation to identify within the community, followed by millennials at 11.2%.

More than half of LGBTQ Americans identify as bisexual, the largest category in the community. But even though bisexual people make up 58% of the LGBTQ community, they are far less likely to come out to family and friends than their gay and lesbian counterparts, a Pew research study found.

While the traditional rainbow flag represents the LGBTQ community, there are also flags for lesbian, bisexual and trans pride.
While the traditional rainbow flag represents the LGBTQ community, there are also flags for lesbian, bisexual and trans pride.

What does the ‘B’ in LGBTQ stand for?

The B in LGBTQ stands for bisexual. LGBTQ is an acronym of identities related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

What each letter in LGBTQ means:

In recent years, many have added I and A — intersex and asexual — to the lineup. The plus sign is often tacked onto the end to signal identities in the community that perhaps don’t fit into the other letters like pansexual, polyamorous, Two-Spirited or others who don’t label their sexuality.

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What does bisexual mean?

A bisexual person is someone who is attracted to more than one gender, but the term is often used to describe a wide spectrum of identities.

One of the most widely used definitions of bisexuality comes from activist and editor Robyn Ochs:

"I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree," Ochs says.

The term bi+ has also gained traction in recent years. Some use it as an umbrella term to describe people who experience any degree of attraction to more than one gender. This includes individuals who identify as pansexual, queer, omnisexual, fluid and more. The most important thing for many people identifying under the umbrella term bisexual or bi+ is that the label feels right for them.  Not everyone is comfortable with or desires a label on their sexual and romantic attraction.

When was the word bisexual first used?

The first known use of the word bisexual dates to 1859 when anatomist Robert Bentley Todd used the term to describe what we now call intersex — the possession of male and female physical characteristics in the same body.

According to Stonewall, the word described a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, now known as androgyny, at the turn of the 20th century. Only beginning in the 1910s was the word used to describe sexual and romantic attraction. In 1915, Sigmund Freud wrote about universal bisexuality as a combination of masculinity and femininity in gender and a more fluid sexual and romantic attraction.

What are the colors of the bisexual flag?

The colors of the bi pride flag are blue, pink and purple. The flag was created in 1998 by Michael Page, with pink representing attraction to the same sex, blue meaning attraction to the opposite sex and a purple stripe between the two signaling attraction to more than one.

What does pansexual mean?

While bisexual broadly describes attraction to more than one gender, pansexuality is attraction regardless of gender, but the two often overlap in ways that are nuanced and entirely personal to the individual.

One of the most well-known explanations of pansexuality is portrayed in sitcom Schitt’s Creek. In season 1, episode 10, David Rose and Stevie engage in a brief sexual relationship, surprising Stevie because she assumed David was gay.

“I only drink red wine,” Stevie says, referencing the fact that she is only attracted to men. “And up until last night I was under the impression that you too only drank red wine. But I guess I was wrong?”

“I do drink red wine, but I also drink white wine, and I’ve also been known to sample the occasional rosé,” David explains. “And a couple summers back I tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay, which got a bit complicated … I like the wine and not the label, does that make sense?”

Celebrities you might not know are bisexual:

Cardi B defended her bisexuality when fans called her out for "queerbaiting" after appearing with Normani in her music video “Wild Side.”
Cardi B defended her bisexuality when fans called her out for "queerbaiting" after appearing with Normani in her music video “Wild Side.”
  • Megan Fox: “Putting the B in #LGBTQIA for over two decades,” Fox said on her Instagram last June.

  • Jason Mraz: The “I’m Yours” singer wrote a Pride Month poem for Billboard in 2018 when coming out as bisexual.

  • Kristen Stewart: The “Spencer” star explained to The Guardian in 2017 that being bisexual doesn’t mean being confused.

  • Lili Reinhart: Reinhart told Flaunt that while her bisexuality has been no secret in her personal life, she was worried about being accused of “faking it to get attention” in the media.

  • Aubrey Plaza: Plaza told The Advocate in 2016 that having a large LGBTQ following is “the ultimate compliment,” while sharing that she “can’t help” falling in love with both guys and girls.

  • Angelina Jolie: The actor has openly talked about relationships she’s had with women and men in the past.

  • Cardi B: When Cardi B’s bisexuality was questioned on Twitter, she replied with a snappy comeback about how she doesn’t owe proof of her sexuality to anyone.

  • Lady Gaga: An icon in the queer community, the “Rain On Me” singer told Rolling Stone about how being bisexual has impacted her life and relationships.

  • Halsey: The singer has been openly bisexual for quite some time, telling fans in an award acceptance video that she’s working to be a better representative of the LGBTQ community.

  • Stephanie Beatriz: The “Encanto” actor is famously known for her openly bisexual Brooklyn Nine-Nine character.

  • Auli’i Cravalho: The “Moana” star opened up to Vogue about receiving “encouraging” roles where she’d play gay or bisexual characters.

  • Willow Smith: Smith opened up to her mother and grandmother on a “Red Table Talk” episode about being bisexual and polyamorous.

  • Tyler Blackburn: The “Pretty Little Liars” veteran told The Advocate in 2019 that he’s identified as bisexual since he was a teenager.

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If you're questioning your identity or looking for how best to support your LGBTQ loved ones, these resources can help. Find organizations with free education, crisis intervention, peer support and information below:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the 'B' in LGBTQ? Difference between bisexual and pansexual.