Editorial Style: LGBT Topics

Red carnations in the foreground with the Belltower in the background.

Memorial Belltower and spring flowers.

Since June is the month we celebrate pride, let’s review editorial style topics related to sexual orientation and gender. Much of this material (and more) can be found in the AP Stylebook. Keep in mind that language around gender is evolving but our goal should always be to help create a respectful, welcoming environment at NC State.

LGBT is acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. You can also use the more inclusive LGBTQ, with Q standing for queer and/or questioning.

You can use longer acronyms such as LGBTQIA and LGBTQ+ if these terms are familiar to your audience (e.g., in a newsletter for the GLBT Center). I stands for intersex and A for asexual.

Queer is an umbrella term that refers to people who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Use with caution since it may be offensive to some LGBT people regardless of intent.

Gender is not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics. Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders. When needed for clarity or in certain stories about scientific studies, alternatives include men and women, boys and girls, males and females.

Transgender describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified as having at birth. Does not require what are often known as sex reassignment or gender confirmation procedures. Identify people as transgender only if pertinent, and use the name by which they live publicly.

Cisgender describes people whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth.

Gender-nonconforming is a term for people who do not conform to gender expectations. People are nonbinary if their gender identity is not strictly male or female. Gender fluid refers to a person whose gender identity or expression is not fixed but can vary between, and extend beyond, male and female. These terms are not synonymous with transgender. If relevant to the story, be specific about how a person describes or expresses gender identity and behavior. For example, “John Doe identifies as both male and female.”

In writing about people, use the pronouns they prefer. If someone’s preferred pronouns are plural (they/them/their) or unfamiliar to your readers, you have a couple of options. You can simply explain the pronoun preference or — especially in a short story — you can use the person’s name instead of pronouns.

To learn more about writing about LGBT topics, visit the online stylebook for the Association of LGBTQ Journalists.