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Inclusive Language Guide

Inclusive language is language that is free from words, phrases, or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups.  It is also language that doesn't deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from being seen as part of a group.  Using this language is important because language is our main form of communication and it plays a powerful role both in contributing to and in eliminating discrimination.  Please use this chart to inform your communication but remember that the most important guide to follow is the language that someone is using to describe themselves.

Inclusive language description / Explanation
People, Y’all, You Folks, Everyone Gender inclusive way to address a group. Preferred to “Ladies and Gentlemen”, “You Guys”
Asian, Asian American or more specific designation such as Pacific Islander, Chinese American, Korean Preferred to “Asiatic” or “Oriental”
Black, African-American Preferred to Afro-American. African-American is not interchangeable with black because of its national affiliation.
Hispanic, Latinx, or Latino /Latina if gender is known Preferred over assumption of country such as “Mexican” if not known
Native American, American Indian, Indigenous people Preferred over “Indian” to describe people whose ancestors were in America before the arrival of Europeans
People/ Persons/ Person of Color To refer to non-white people and groups. Do not use "colored people."
Bi-racial people, Multi-racial people Preferred way to address people with multi-racial backgrounds
Persons with disabilities or more specific designation such as person who uses crutches Person first language, preferred to “disabled person”
Person who is temporarily able-bodied To describe people who do not currently have a physical disability
Womxn Preferred to “girls”, when speaking about adult womxn. “Womxn” in preferred to “women” because it is inclusive of community members who have experienced life as a womxn in the body, mind and/or spirit, be that in the past, present, future
Economically marginalized, person of low socioeconomic status (SES) Term to describe people who are pushed to the margins of the economy, preferred to “lower class” or “poor”
Underrepresented or marginalized group Preferred to minority
Undocumented immigrant Preferred to “illegal immigrant”, “alien”
Partner, spouse Gender inclusive way of referring to a romantic partner
Cisgender A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth
Trans, transgender A person whose gender identity is different than the one they were assigned at birth
Genderqueer A term under the trans umbrella which refers to people who identify outside of the false male-female binary. Genderqueer people may experience erasure if they are perceived as cisgender. Genderqueer folks who are perceived as genderqueer are often subjected to gender policing.
Non-binary A person whose gender identity does not align exclusively with a false male/ female gender binary
Gender Non-Conforming Refers to people who do not conform to society’s expectation for their gender roles or gender expression. Some prefer ‘gender variant’
Gender-fluid A person who does not identify with a single and fixed gender
Lesbian A woman who is emotionally or sexually attracted to other women. Preferred to “homosexual” because “homosexual” pathologizes sexuality and feeds into the idea that it is biological, rather than socially constructed
Gay A sexual orientation that describes an individual who is emotionally or sexually attracted to people of their own gender; most commonly used to describe men. Preferred to “homosexual” because “homosexual” pathologizes sexuality and feeds into the idea that it is biological, rather than socially constructed
Heterosexual A person who is a ttracted to members on the other end of the gender spectrum. Preferred to “straight” because “straight” sets a norm that the alternative would be “crooked”
Bisexual A person who is sexually or emotionally attracted to more than one sex or gender
Queer An umbrella term used to describe the diverse ways in which people reject the binary categories of gender and/or sexual orientation. Also an academic term to reject the colonization into any classification mechanisms.
Intersex A person born with sex characteristics such as genitalia or chromosomes that do not fit the biological criteria for a male or female binary
Pansexual A person who can be attracted to a variety of people regardless of their biological sex or their gender identity
Asexual (sometimes shortened to Ace) A person who does not experience sexual attraction to other people
Aromantic (sometimes shortened to Aro) A person who does not experience romantic attraction to other people

Sometimes we say words without realizing the impact they may have on others. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Take time to educate yourself about language and histories of oppression. 

Words That Hurt and Why 

 

Bitch (in Any Language)

Targets and dehumanizes women, even if used toward men, including queer and gay men.  Devalues women and femininity.  Reinforces sexism.

Ghetto / Ratchet

Describes something or someone as cheap, worn out, poor, dangerous, etc. Reference to housing communities that are impoverished and disproportionately impact people of color. Associates people of color with these negative characteristics.

Illegal Alien

Reduces undocumented immigrants to something less than human. Fixates on legal status instead of people as individuals. Asserts that some people belong here more than others do. Ignores political, social, and economic factors that impact people of color. 

No Homo

Stresses the speaker's heterosexuality, masculinity, and/or other traits to avoid being perceived as LGBTQ+. Goes to great lengths to avoid association with anything queer. Reinforces that to be LGBTQ+ is bad.

Retarded, Lame, Crazy, and Dumb

Targets mental, emotional and physical disabilities as objects for ridicule. Used as synonyms for "worthless," "bad," "unintelligent," "incapable," etc.

That's So Gay!

Stigmatizes gay and queer people. Uses their identities to describe something as undesirable and bad. Replaces negative adjectives with words related to LGBTQ+ identities.

Whore / Ho and Slut

Dismisses anyone seen as being "too" sexual, particularly sex workers, women, LGBTQ+ people and people of color. Perpetuates negativity toward sex itself. Regulates who is allowed to have it.

Bisexuality doesn't really exist.  People are just gay or straight.

This denies the fluidity of sexuality and dismisses people's experiences and definitions of self. People deserve the right to define their own identities any way they wish and have those definitions honored.

I think everyone is really bisexual.

While this is often meant to acknowledge the fluidity of sexuality, it dismisses the reality of people who identify as bisexual and erases their experiences. It also invalidates the self-identifications of non-bisexual people.

You're too femme/butch to be bisexual.

Gender presentation does not indicate sexual orientation. Bisexual people have a wide range of gender presentations.

Bisexual people just want straight privilege.

Bisexual people experience discrimination within straight communities and lesbian/gay communities. They never fully experience straight privilege because they do not identify as straight. Often their identities are made invisible and denied.

BDSM: Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism

BDSM refers to a wide spectrum of activities and forms of interpersonal relationships. While not always overtly sexual in nature, the activities and relationships within a BDSM context are almost always eroticized by the participants in some fashion. Many of these practices fall outside of commonly held social norms regarding sexuality and human relationships.

Bisexual people are just greedy and want to have sex with everyone.

This stereotypes bisexual people and assumes they are all promiscuous - and that this is a bad thing. It creates negative attitudes toward sex and works against creating a sex-positive climate. It also demonstrates an underlying belief that bisexuality is only about behavior and is not a legitimate identity.

Who do you see yourself ending up with?

This is another way of implying one has to "end up" gay or straight and ignores bisexuality as an identity versus a relationship status. It also assumes everyone desires to be in a long-term monogamous relationship.

Tranny

Whether or not someone identifies as trans, calling anyone "tranny" is extremely offensive. While some folks within the trans* community may choose to reclaim this word for themselves, it is not a word that is okay to use to label another person or use as a joke.

That person doesn't really look like a woman/man.

What does it mean to look like a man or woman? There are no set criteria. It also should not be assumed that all Trans Men strive to fit within dominant ideas of masculinity or all Trans Women strive to fit within dominant ideas of femininity, or that all Trans people want to look like men or women. Gender presentation is fluid and distinct from gender identity, and all forms of gender expression deserve affirmation.

What is your REAL name?  I mean the one you were given at birth.

This implies that the person's gender identity and chosen name are not "real" and perpetuates the idea of Trans people as deceptive. It removes agency and any right to make decisions for themselves, and is incredibly invalidating. It presumes a right to intimate information, disregards privacy, and places Trans lives on public display. These names are often considered "dead names" to trans people.

He-She

This hyphenated term is demeaning and invalidates an individual's identity and the pronouns that they use.

Using the wrong pronouns or making assumptions about others' gender identities.

It is vital that we respect the names and pronouns that people use. It is impossible to know without asking. If you are not sure, ask: "What pronouns do you use?"  If you are referring to someone but do not know their pronouns, simply use their name or use person first language "the person with the red shirt."

What are you REALLY? Have you had surgery>  If not then you're not a ______.

Asking anyone personal questions about their bodies and/or surgeries is invasive and inappropriate. We don't ask cisgender people about what is under their clothes; we shouldn't ask Trans people either.

Asking others about a trans person's identity, or offering information about someone.

Asking someone about another person's identity is inappropriate. Ask yourself why you want to know. If you are concerned about using the correct pronouns, ask the person directly.

Cunt/Twat/Pussy

Using words that refer to people with vaginas to express that someone is weak or emotional. Dehumanizes womxn and perpetuates misogyny and sexism.

Thot

Word created to express womxn or people who are sexually promiscuous. There are speculations that the word comes from the KKK organization that referred to Black women who were forced into prostitution (i.e. Sarah Baartman: Hottentot).

Ugly

Word used to put down someone for the way they look, can be connected back to white supremacist, ableist, sizeist standards of beauty.

You Guys

Erases the identities of people who are in the room. Generalizing a group of people to be masculine.

I'm being such a fat-ass / I'm being so fat right now!

Demeans and devalues fatness/fat bodies, reinforces harmful assumptions that fat people are gluttonous and are fat because they have no restraint around food. Also implies that there is an acceptable amount of food to eat and anything more is disgusting, or that enjoying food too much is disgusting.

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