LGBTIQA+ Inclusive Language Guide

Author: Veruska Anconitano, CEO & Co-Founder, Multilingual Inclusive Language ExpertAuthor information
Veruska
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Veruska Anconitano
Veruska is a sociolinguist and a multilingual inclusive language expert. she works as a multilingual SEO and globalization consultant with brands wanting to enter non-english speaking brands. She's one of Inclusiviteasy's founder and a passionate advocate for equality and inclusivity.
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Inclusive language is a powerful tool in the fight against discrimination and prejudice. The words we choose can significantly impact how individuals and communities are perceived and treated. This is especially true for the LGBTIQA+ community, covering a broad spectrum of identities and experiences. Inclusive language is not about being politically correct or prescriptive; it’s about showing respect and understanding and creating an environment where everyone feels accepted.

The LGBTIQA+ Inclusive Language Guide aims to provide practical advice on communicating in ways that honor the identities and experiences of LGBTIQA+ individuals. This guide will offer tips on avoiding common pitfalls and highlight the importance of using the right terminology.

Whether you are a student, professional, ally, or member of the LGBTIQA+ community, this guide aims to equip you with the tools to navigate conversations with sensitivity and respect.

What does the term ‘LGBTIQA+’ mean?

The term ‘LGBTIQA+’ is an inclusive acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, Asexual, and the plus sign (+) acknowledges the inclusion of other diverse sexual orientations and gender identities that are not explicitly represented by the initial letters.

Each letter represents a distinct community within the larger spectrum of sexual and gender diversity. Lesbian refers to women who are attracted to women, gay typically refers to men attracted to men but can also be an umbrella term for homosexual individuals, bisexual indicates an attraction to both men and women, and transgender describes people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Intersex individuals are born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical definitions of male or female, queer is an inclusive term for sexual and gender minorities, questioning represents those who are exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and asexual describes individuals who experience little to no sexual attraction. The ‘+’ sign symbolizes the inclusion of other identities, such as pansexual, non-binary, and genderqueer, ensuring that the term is comprehensive and respectful of the entire spectrum of human diversity.

LGBTIQA+ Key Terminology

Understanding the key terms of gender, sexuality, and identity is essential for developing an inclusive and respectful environment. These definitions help clarify the diverse experiences and identities within the LGBTIQA+ community, promoting better communication and support. Below is a list of important terms and their meanings:

Gender

Part of a person’s personal and social identity. It encompasses differences in identity, expression, and experience as a woman, man, or gender-diverse person.

Gender Diverse

An umbrella term for various genders, including genderfluid, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, agender, bi-gender, and non-binary. Language in this area is dynamic and always changing.

Non-Binary

Refers to people whose gender identity does not fit the traditional binary of male and female. They may identify as a mix of genders, no gender, genderfluid, genderqueer, trans masculine, trans feminine, agender, or bigender.

Trans or Transgender

Refers to individuals whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Not all trans people use this term.

Cis or Cisgender

Refers to individuals whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

Sex

Refers to biological characteristics, including chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs.

Sex Recorded at Birth

Based on observable sex characteristics at birth.

Variations of Sex Characteristics

Also known as intersex variations, these include diverse physical or biological sex characteristics identified at different life stages.

Endosex

Refers to individuals whose sex characteristics align with typical medical and social norms for male or female bodies.

Sexuality or Sexual Orientation

Describes a person’s romantic, sexual, and/or intimate attractions. It includes identities such as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and pansexual.

Asexual

Individuals who do not experience sexual attraction but may experience romantic attraction.

Lesbian

Refers to women or gender-diverse individuals who are attracted to women.

Gay

Refers to individuals attracted to people of the same gender, commonly used by men but also applicable to women and gender-diverse individuals.

Bisexual

Individuals attracted to people of their own gender and other genders. Sometimes referred to as bi+ or multi-gender attracted.

Pansexual

Individuals attracted to people of all genders, regardless of gender.

Queer

An umbrella term for diverse genders and sexualities. It can be used as a self-identity, though it may have negative connotations for some.

Questioning

Individuals exploring or uncertain about their gender or sexual orientation.

Heterosexual

Refers to men attracted to women and women attracted to men.

Rainbow Families

Families where LGBTIQA+ individuals are parents or carers, including diverse family structures.

Intersectionality

Describes how various personal attributes and circumstances intersect to shape experiences of privilege, discrimination, or disadvantage. It considers factors like sexuality, gender, age, class, ability, and race, promoting more inclusive and effective services.

Outdated Attitudes and Assumptions About Gender

The list of terms above is a good way to start understanding how to be inclusive in the LGBTIQA+ community and to avoid assumptions.

Attitudes and assumptions about gender can perpetuate harmful stereotypes, discriminate, and invalidate the identities and experiences of many individuals. Such attitudes often stem from a lack of understanding and contribute to a culture that marginalizes non-binary and transgender people. For instance, assuming or implying that only two genders exist overlooks the complexity and diversity of human gender experiences.

These assumptions can lead to negative mental health outcomes and social exclusion for those who do not fit into traditional gender categories. Additionally, using outdated and potentially offensive terms to describe gender or trans people can further alienate and stigmatize these individuals.

Binary assumptive language, which presumes a strict male-female dichotomy, can also be problematic. Phrases like “ladies and gentlemen,” “boys and girls,” “men and women of the faculty,” “brothers and sisters,” “he or she,” “s/he,” and “sir/madam” exclude non-binary and genderqueer individuals, perpetuating a limited understanding of gender.

While these terms might be appropriate when referring to specific individuals who have expressed their preference for such terms, they should generally be avoided in universal contexts. Adopting inclusive language helps create a more accepting and respectful environment for all gender identities.

Outdated Terms to Avoid and Replacement Language

Using outdated terminology when referring to gender and sexual orientation can perpetuate harmful stereotypes, imply criminalization or pathologization, and often result in miscommunication. These terms may have been common, but language evolves to reflect our growing understanding and respect for diverse identities. Here are some recommended replacements for outdated terms:

  • Instead of “transsexual,” use “trans” or “transgender” as these terms encompass a broader range of gender identities and experiences.
  • Replace “sex change” or “sex reassignment” with “gender affirmation,” “transition care,” or “change of gender marker.” These terms are more accurate and respectful, reflecting the affirming nature of the process rather than suggesting a mere exchange.
  • Instead of “biological man” or “biological woman,” use “cisgender man” or “cisgender woman” or perhaps “non-transgender man” or “non-transgender woman” to clearly distinguish between transgender and cisgender identities without implying that transgender identities are unnatural.
  • Substitute “feminine/female pronouns” or “masculine/male pronouns” with “she/her pronouns” or “he/him pronouns.” This language avoids reinforcing gender stereotypes and focuses on people’s specific pronouns.
  • Instead of “preferred gender pronouns,” use “personal pronouns.” The term “preferred” can imply that using someone’s correct pronouns is optional, whereas “personal pronouns” emphasize respect for their identity.
  • Replace “transvestite” with “cross-dresser,” as the former is outdated and can be seen as derogatory.
  • Use “intersex” instead of “hermaphrodite,” a term that is considered offensive and misleading.
  • Instead of “homosexual,” use “gay” or “lesbian.” “Homosexual” can carry clinical connotations and historical stigma, whereas “gay” and “lesbian” are more commonly accepted terms.
  • Replace “lifestyle” or “preference” with “orientation” or “identity.” These terms more accurately reflect the inherent nature of sexual orientation and gender identity, rather than suggesting they are choices.

Adopting these updated terms demonstrates respect and understanding for people’s identities and experiences, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment.

LGBTIQA+ Pronouns and Their Importance

Pronouns play a crucial role in affirming and respecting the identities of LGBTIQA+ individuals. Correct pronouns are a fundamental aspect of inclusive language, as they acknowledge and validate a person’s gender identity.

This is a simplified list of LGBTIQA+ pronouns to remember as a key part of respectful and inclusive communication. It is always best to ask individuals for their pronouns if you are unsure, as this demonstrates respect for their identity.

  • He/Him/His: Typically used by men, including cisgender and some transgender men.
  • She/Her/Hers: Typically used by women, including cisgender and some transgender women.
  • They/Them/Theirs: Used by individuals who are non-binary, genderqueer, or prefer not to specify a gender. This can be used in singular form.
  • Ze/Zir/Zirs: Pronounced “zee/zeer/zeers,” these are gender-neutral pronouns that some non-binary or genderqueer individuals prefer.
  • Ze/Hir/Hirs: Pronounced “zee/heer/heers,” another set of gender-neutral pronouns.
  • Xe/Xem/Xyr: Pronounced “zee/zem/zeer,” these pronouns are gender-neutral and used by some non-binary individuals.
  • Ey/Em/Eir: Pronounced “ay/em/air,” these pronouns are derived from the word “they” and are used as gender-neutral pronouns.
  • Fae/Faer/Faers: Used by some non-binary individuals, these pronouns are gender-neutral.
  • Ve/Ver/Vis: Another set of gender-neutral pronouns preferred by some non-binary individuals.
  • Per/Per/Pers: Derived from “person,” these pronouns are gender-neutral and used by some non-binary individuals.
  • It/Its: Occasionally used by some individuals, though it is important to use this pronoun only if explicitly stated by the person, as it can be dehumanizing when used without consent.

Embracing Mistakes and Learning in LGBTIQA+ Inclusive Language

It’s okay to make mistakes when learning to use respectful language, especially when it comes to the correct terms, names, or pronouns for the LGBTIQA+ community. Many people worry about offending someone or feeling embarrassed, but understanding that mistakes are part of the learning process is important. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on—use the correct gender, pronouns, or name at the next opportunity. Avoid dwelling on the mistake, as this can make the person feel more uncomfortable. Strive to avoid making the same mistake again; repeated errors can indicate a lack of respect and be very distressing. Continued mistakes could even be seen as bullying or discrimination. By learning from mistakes and making a genuine effort to improve, we can all contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment.

Do you want to become inclusive in your daily communication?
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