Terms to Avoid

Problematic, Outdated or Harmful Language in LGBT Campaigns

Avoid: “homosexual” (n. or adj.), “gay” (n.) (as in, “He is a gay.”)

Preferred: “gay” (adj.); “gay man” or “lesbian” (n.); “gay person/people”

Gay is an adjective, not a noun; it is sometimes used as a shorthand term encompassing gay, lesbian and bisexual orientations (though not transgender people or gender identity). Also, while many lesbians may identify as gay, the term lesbian(s) is clearer when talking only about a woman or women. Anti-gay activists often use words like “homosexual” to stigmatize gay people by reducing their lives to purely sexual terms.

Avoid: “homosexuality,” “lesbianism”

Preferred: “being gay”

Talking about a person’s “homosexuality” can, in some cases, reduce the life of that person to purely sexual terms. Talk about being gay instead. The term “lesbianism” is considered pejorative.

Avoid: “sexual preference,” “gay lifestyle” or “homosexual lifestyle,” “same-sex attractions,” “sexual identity”

Preferred: “sexual orientation” or “orientation”

The term “sexual preference” is used by anti-gay activists to suggest that being gay is a choice, and therefore can be changed or “cured.” Similarly, the term “gay lifestyle” is used to stigmatize gay people and suggest that their lives should be viewed only through a sexual lens. Just as one would not talk about a “straight lifestyle,” one shouldn’t talk about a “gay lifestyle.”

Avoid: “admitted homosexual” or “avowed homosexual,” “admitted he was gay”

Preferred: “openly lesbian,” “openly gay,” “openly bisexual,” or simply “out”

The term “admitted” suggests prior deception or that being gay is shameful.

Avoid: “gay agenda” or “homosexual agenda”

Preferred: Accurate descriptions of the issues (e.g., “inclusion in existing non-discrimination and hate crimes laws,” “ending the ban on transgender service members”)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are motivated by the same hopes, concerns and desires as other everyday Americans. They seek to be able to earn a living, be safe in their communities, serve their country, and take care of the ones they love. Their commitment to equality is one they share with many allies and advocates who are not LGBT. Notions of a so-called “homosexual agenda” are rhetorical inventions of anti-gay activists seeking to create a climate of fear by portraying the pursuit of equal opportunity for LGBT people as sinister.

Avoid: “transgendered,” “a transgender” (n.), “transgenders” (n.), “transvestite,” “tranny”

Preferred: “transgender” (adj.), “transgender people,” “a transgender person”

Transgender is an adjective, not a noun. Be careful not to call someone “a transgender.” Do not add an unnecessary “-ed” to the term (“transgendered”), which connotes a condition of some kind. Never use the term “transvestite” to describe a transgender person. The shorthand trans is often used within the LGBT community, but may not be understood by general audiences.

Avoid: “sex change,” “sex-change operation,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative,” “pre-op,” “post-op”

Preferred: transition

Transition is the accurate term that does not fixate on surgeries, which many transgender people do not or cannot undergo. Terms like “pre-op” or “post-op” unnecessarily fixate on a person’s anatomy and should be avoided.

Avoid: “special rights,” “civil rights,” “gay rights”

Preferred: “fairness and equality,” “equal protection”

Anti-gay activists frequently characterize equal protection of the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as “special rights” to incite opposition to such things as relationship recognition and inclusive non-discrimination laws. Additionally, “rights” language is generally unpersuasive with most audiences, and civil rights comparisons can be especially alienating to African Americans.

Avoid: “hate”/”haters”/”hatred,” “bigots”/”bigotry,” “prejudice”

Preferred: “intolerance,” “rejection,” “exclusion,” “unfairness,” “hurtfulness”

Avoid highly charged, argumentative terms like “hate” and “bigotry,” which are likely to alienate people. Instead, use language that is measured and relatable to create empathy and a sense of how rejecting attitudes and actions hurt LGBT people.

Avoid: “religious extremists/extremism,” “anti-gay Christians”

Preferred: “anti-gay activists,” “far-right activists”

Avoid language that unfairly paints an entire religious tradition or denomination as being anti-gay or extremist.

Sources: Movement Advancement Project (www.lgbtmap.org) • GLAAD (www.glaad.org)

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