LGBTQIA is an abbreviation for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex,, asexual/aromantic/agender." The “A" in LGBTQIA may also refer to “ally" or “allied," meaning someone who does not identify as LGBTQIA but supports those who do.
If a source in your content prefers to be referred to or identified using another term or abbreviation, please abide by their preference.
On first reference, explain what LGBTQIA stands for and use the abbreviation on subsequent mentions.
The word "queer" has historically been considered a slur, so you may want to avoid use of the word, limiting it to quotes, names of organizations, and instances when an individual indicates he/she/they would prefer it used in reference to themselves.
That said, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQIA people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQIA community.
Queer can also be used in academic circles related to domain (e.g., "queer studies") and or a range of post-structuralist theories that deal with the construction or reconstruction of sexuality and/or gender identity known as "queer theory." Other variants, such as "quare theory," consider the intersection of identities, such as race. In your writing, avoid comparisons that reflect a heteronormative bias—in other words, heterosexual/cisgender as "normal" or the norm.
Note: When interviewing someone or otherwise referring to a source or subject in your writing, ask the individual how they prefer to be referred to (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, intersex, etc.) related to their gender and/or sexual identity. This may include identifications that are not common or specific. Ask, too, if there are any terms they ask not be used in reference to them and in what cases.
Note on the Use of "Transsexual" and "Transgender"
The GLAAD Media Reference Guide notes that "transgender" is preferred to "transsexual" and the latter should not be used. That said, Dr. Benny LeMaster, a former lecturer in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Communication Studies at Cal State Long Beach, notes that "transsexual is an acceptable term for folks who are transsexual. Some folks who seek to alter their body in some way may use transsexual and not transgender precisely because the politics that bar folks from altering their bodies on their terms. Transgender is the larger term while transsexual is the more local term for a smaller group of folks who fall under the larger transgender umbrella but who may not call themselves transgender." When in doubt, try to find out how someone prefers to be referenced.
Reminders for reporting on and writing about LGBTQIA individuals, communities or subjects:
- If you're covering research or new data, don't refer to the findings as relevant to "the gay or LGBTQIA community" if the information only relates to, say, gay men.
- Don't conflate sex and gender; they aren't the same thing.
- When talking about marriage, make sure you're using the person's preferred term(s), whether partner, spouse, wife, husband or something else. Gay marriage and same-sex marriage are acceptable terms.
- Pay close attention to how the person you're talking to narrates their own story and follow their lead and cues when you write. If the person uses terms you don't know, ask them to explain each so you're sure to use it correctly. If there is particular sensitivity on the part of a source and/or topic, build in time for a source(s) to review their quotes for accuracy.
Reasons to Ask—and Reasons to Refrain from Asking
When is it appropriate to ask a subject to disclose his/her/their sexual orientation for a story? Is it ever?
Reasons to ask:
- If it adds context to the story. Are you interviewing the person specifically because s/he/they is a member of the LGBTQIA community? If so, ask to confirm and ask how s/he identifies or they identify.
- If it is central to the story. Would it seem out of place if you didn't mention it? For example, if you're covering same-sex marriage, anti-discrimination laws, and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it's relevant to include that the person is or could be directly affected by the events.
- If it isn't central to the story, what is your motivation for asking? Are you trying to add diversity to your story or highlight how different populations might be affected differently?
Reasons to avoid asking or telling:
- If it would cause harm to the subject.
- If it's merely for prurient reasons or to sensationalize the story.
- Would you include the information if the subject were heterosexual? If yes, include it for an LGBTQIA person. If not, think about why you want to include it; it must be relevant.
Pronoun Use for Transgender Sources
If a source shares a transgender or gender-nonconforming identity, it is best practice to ask for preferred pronouns. Be cautious that a person's pronouns may not correspond with the gender that may be associated with one's name or appearance. Also, do not assume transgender status or include it if it is not germane to the story.
Note that sex, gender and sexual orientation are not synonymous.
LGBTQIA: Terms to Avoid
- Closeted (preferred: not out)
- Gay community (preferred: LGBTQIA community)
- Homosexual (preferred: gay or lesbian)
- Openly gay (preferred: out)
- Queer (see discussion above)
- Lesbian women (this is redundant; just say lesbian)
- MTF or FTM (use male to female/female to male transition unless an individual identifies themselves this way)
- Sexual preference (preferred: sexual orientation)
- Trans (abbreviation for someone who is transgender; Transgender people identify as a gender that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender woman was assigned to be male at birth; a transgender man was assigned to be female at birth.)
- Transvestite (preferred: cross-dresser; cross-dressing does not necessarily indicate someone is gay or transgender)
For more terms, go to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.
- AP Style Handbook (subscription required)
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide – 10th edition
- NLGJA – The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook (Spanish version)
- NLGJA – Tip Sheets on LGBT Coverage – Are You Gay?
- "Some Very Basic Tips for Making Higher Education More Accessible to Trans Students and Rethinking How We Talk About Gendered Bodies," (PDF) by Dean Spade, Radical Teacher, Winter 2011