LGBTQ+ refers to anyone that defines themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual identities, or members of another sexual or gender group. The LGBTQ+ descriptor includes different identities and groups (to start with, a person’s sexual orientation is not the same as their gender identity), but the principles of inclusive language are the same: affirm and respect a person’s identity as an immutable part of who they are.
Inclusion of all sexualities and gender identities
A person may be gay, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual; they may be transgender, or they may identify as cisgender, male, female, non-binary, and so on. In all cases, remember that people are just that: people. We all have different identities, attributes, and personalities, and no single attribute is the only thing defining us as a person. Therefore, the first step is to ask whether a person’s sexuality or gender identity is actually relevant to what you are writing. If it is not necessarily relevant to the story, do not mention it.
Where it is relevant, use respectful language that recognizes every person’s right to their own identity, dignity, and visibility. Common examples include:
- Use ‘sexual orientation’; do not use ‘sexual preference’ (the latter implies that a person’s identity is a voluntary choice)
- Uphold every person’s identity on their terms. Avoid terms that question its truth, or that imply it is a preference, a trend, or a temporary phase, e.g. by referring to a transgender person’s ‘biological/original’ gender or saying they ‘became’ a man/woman. We should ensure we are not placing responsibility on individual people to conform to ‘norms’ – their identities are who they are, and responsibility should lie with the broader society to accept this.
- Do not include extraneous details, especially when writing about transgender people. In other words, do not include details that would not be mentioned when talking about a cisgender person (e.g. their previous identity/name, their medical status, and so on)
- Do not assume your audience. Remember that everyone is different, and a ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ person doesn’t exist. Whoever someone is, and however they identify, they deserve to feel welcomed and included as a foundation of every interaction.
Everyday words and phrases – watch out!
Gendered words and phrases have been in language for generations and are used so commonly that it’s easy to overlook them. But in the spirit of including everyone, it is time to re-examine some old phrases that reinforce strict gender binaries – especially when preferred alternatives are easily available.
- Opening a piece with ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ excludes non-binary or agender people. A suitable alternative such as ‘Dear all’, ‘Everyone’ or ‘Folks’ (depending on how formal the piece is) will achieve the same expression.
- When referring to children and parents, ‘mom and dad’ assumes every family has the same make-up with one male and one female parent. ‘Parents’ includes families with two parents of the same gender; even better, ‘parents and caregivers’ or even ‘those that look after children’ includes families with one parent, or where the child is looked after by people other than their biological parents. (When talking to/about a specific child, it is of course correct to use whichever term applies to their situation, however when addressing broad groups, it’s best to use inclusive terms).
- Be aware of gendered marketing and presentations (e.g., toys based on construction or sports marketed to boys, and toys based on beauty or childcare to girls). Even just as an illustrative point, mentioning that certain things are ‘for men/boys’ or ‘for women/girls’ reinforces old traditions that people need to fit into a binary and behave a certain way based on their gender.
Ladies and gentlemen.
- Dear all
mom and dad
- parents and caregivers
- those that look after children
If you have any further questions about this or any other section of Bayer Identity Net, please contact:
We share three tips for addressing people, in various settings (public content, personal written communication, and everyday conversations).
From allyship to action
To take your linguistic inclusivity further, consider embedding it into the language you use everyday– normalizing diversity and emphasizing that people of all identities are welcomed and supported.
- In your onboarding process, respectfully ask new starters what pronouns they use
- Encourage colleagues to add their pronouns into their email signatures and profile pages if they feel comfortable to.
- Provide space for LGBTQ+ colleagues to create their own community in intranets, extracurricular activities, branded materials etc.
- Make diversity and inclusivity education an official part of colleagues’ up-skilling structure (rather than placing the educational burden on LGBTQ+ colleagues themselves)
Optional addition of personal pronouns as part of the mail footer.