Santa Clara University

Wellness Center


What Is Sexual Orientation?



Sexual orientation/identity refers to individual's physical, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual orientations.



  • Lesbians: Women who are attracted (emotionally, spiritually, and physically) to other women.
  • Gay men: Men who are attracted (emotionally, spiritually, and physically) to other men.
  • Bisexual: People who are attracted (emotionally, spiritually, and physically) to both women and men.
  • Transgender: People whose gender identity or gender expression contrast with traditional social norms and expectations for their physical sex.
  • Transvestites:  men who dress in women’s clothing.  They see themselves as men, not women, and they may be either gay or straight.
  • Transsexuals:  people who feel they are a different gender than their bodies.  They may be straight or gay, and some choose to have a sex-change operation while others don’t.
  • Queer: This term includes the non-mainstream identities of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people Also, if used by a non-LGBTQ person, it is often still considered derogatory. "Queer" challenges notions of biological constructions of sexual desire and gender and is therefore often used to include people and notions that challenge society's rigid sexual/gender boundaries.
  • Questioning: Anyone who is uncertain about their sexual orientation, that is, anyone who is unsure whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.
  • Ally:  A heterosexual individual who supports LGBTQ people.

Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Questioning/Queer (hereafter LGBTQ or GLBTQQA) people are often grouped together because these groups are all considered sexual minorities (2).
More Terminology Here.


Being Honest With Yourself

From birth, most people are raised to think of themselves as heterosexual and as the gender that corresponds with thier biological sex. One's parents, families, teachers, friends - and seemingly the entire culture - promote the idea that a day would arrive when we would meet someone of the opposite sex and get married. Very few individuals are told that they might fall in love with someone of the same sex. And virtually all individuals are strongly discouraged from identifying more with another gender. That's why so many LGBTQs are shocked or confused when it happens to them (1).


The coming out process is very personal. This process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process. While some anxiety related to sexuality is common among college students, the problems facing LGBTQ students are often more difficult. Because positive role models are often difficult to identify, LGBTQ people may feel alone and unsure of their own sexual identities. Fear of rejection is greater among LGBTQ people due to the prejudices in society against them (3).


Being Honest With Others: Coming Out

In your coming out process, it can be very helpful to focus on the many aspects of LGBTQ culture. For example, its music, art, theatre, literature, events, history, and community groups. Santa Clara University offers several courses that discuss LGBTQ issues, history, culture, literature, film, theatre, etc. (see LGBTQ Course Listing and Program for the Study of Women and Gender). It is also very helpful to seek out positive, well-adjusted and comfortable role models among LGBTQ people (3). At Santa Clara, this can be accomplished by attending a GALA meeting. If you are not yet comfortable identifying yourself as LGBTQ, you may consider attending a GASPED event or meeting, which includes both gay and straight students. You can also contact out faculty and staff members who make their contact information available for students.


Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are any age, gender or racial/ethnic group. Of course, cultural and social differences may alter the way a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person manages her/his feelings and identity because these dictate the way others will perceive and react to them (2). For specific resources on coming out for individuals of color, click here.


Links for LGBTQ individuals of color:

  • Blackstripe exists to provide information for and about same-gender-loving people of African descent.
  • The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) in the San Francisco Bay Area, is an organization dedicated to furthering the interests of gay & bisexual Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • The Latino/a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Organization (LLEGO) address issues of concern to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Latinas/os.
  • Trikone is an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people of South Asian descent.
  • Two Spirit is a webring of Native American LGBTQ websites.

Some helpful reading on coming out include:

  • Now That You Know. Betty Fairchild & Robert Leighton. New York, NY. Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1989.
  • Beyond Acceptance. Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marina J. Wirth & Arthur G. Wirth. New York, NY. St. Martin's Press, 1997.
  • Straight Parents/Gay Children. Robert A. Bernstein. New York, NY. Thunder's Mouth Press, 1995.

On Campus Resources:

  • GALA: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, & Questioning support group.
  • GASPED: Gay & Straight People for the Education of Diversity.
  • Safe Space Program: SCU's educational commitment to providing a safe environment for LGBTQ students.
  • OOWO: On Our Way Out, Faculty and Staff LGBTQ group.
  • Counseling Center: 554-4172 (free and confidential sessions)
  • Wellness Center:  554-4409

Other Resources:

  • Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) is a national non-profit organization with over 200,000 members and supporters who promote the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends through support, education, and advocacy.
  • LYRIC is a community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth 23 & under.
  • COLAGE is a national and international organization specifically supporting young people with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parents.
  • The Trevor Helpline: 1-800-850-8078
  • National Gay and Lesbian Youth Hotline: 1-800-347-TEEN (8336)
  • Gay and Lesbian National Hotline: 1-888-843-GLNH (4564)
  • National AIDS Hotline:
    1-800-342-AIDS (2437)
    1-800-344-7432 (Spanish)
    1-800-243-7889 (TTY)


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