Gender Identity and Sexuality

Many people have intersecting identities and may choose to share all of those identities in your communications. When possible, it is strongly recommended that you ask people how they prefer to be described, and which identities they would like to include. As a brand communicator, it is also important to consider context. Is noting someone’s characteristics or identity relevant to your piece?

The Associated Press Stylebook carefully and intentionally crafts guidance for the communication of terms related to gender identity and sexuality. It is imperative that our brand communicators familiarize themselves with the most up-to-date recommendations. Below are general AP recommendations. You can find the AP’s full guidance under “gender and sexuality” in the AP Stylebook.


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 as a way to encompass all people. When needed for clarity or in certain stories about scientific studies, alternatives include men and women, boys and girls, males and females.

Language around gender is evolving. Miami University brand communicators may need to make decisions, based on necessity and audience, on terms that differ from or are not covered by the AP’s specific recommendations.

Below are some frequently used terms and definitions. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. When possible, follow the person’s preference:

Asexual

Describes people who don’t experience sexual attraction, though they may feel other types of attraction, such as romantic or aesthetic. Not synonymous with and does not assume celibacy.

Bisexual

Describes people attracted to more than one gender. Some people prefer pansexual, which describes people attracted to others regardless of their gender. The shortened version bi is acceptable in quotations.

Cisgender

Describes people whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth; that is, not transgender. Explain if necessary. Do not use terms like normal to describe people who are not transgender. Not synonymous with heterosexual, which refers to sexual orientation.

Conversion therapy

The scientifically discredited practice of using therapy to “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations. Either refer to it as so-called conversion therapy or put quotation marks around it. Do not do both. Gay conversion therapy should take no hyphen. Always include the disclaimer that it is discredited.

Gay, lesbian

Used to describe people attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Preferred over homosexual. Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent, and avoid references to sexual preference or to a gay or alternative lifestyle. Gays is acceptable as a plural noun when necessary, but do not use the singular gay as a noun. Lesbian is acceptable as a noun in singular or plural form.

Gender-nonconforming (adj.)

Acceptable in broad references as a term for people who do not conform to gender expectations:

  • The group is providing scholarships for gender-nonconforming students.

When talking about individuals, be specific about how a person describes or expresses gender identity and behavior:

  • Roberta identifies as both male and female.

Heterosexual (n. and adj.)

In males, a sexual orientation that describes attraction to females, and vice versa. Straight is acceptable. Transgender people can be heterosexual.

Homophobia, homophobic

Acceptable in broad references or in quotations to the concept of fear or hatred of gays, lesbians and bisexuals:

  • The governor denounced homophobia.

In individual cases, be specific about observable actions, and avoid descriptions or language that assumes motives:

  • The leaflets contained an anti-gay slur.
  • The voters opposed same-sex marriage.

Homosexual (adj.), homosexuality (n.)

Refers to the sexual orientations of gayand/or lesbian. Gay and lesbian is preferred as an adjective; homosexuality is acceptable when an umbrella term is needed. Avoid homosexual as a noun.

Intersex

Describes people born with genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs that don’t fit typical definitions for males or females.

  • Gonzalez is an intersex person who identifies as female.
  • Zimmerman is intersex.

LGBTQ+ (adj.)

Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. Use of LGBTQ is best as an adjective and an umbrella term. Don't use it, for instance, when the group you're referring to is limited to bisexuals.

When possible, avoid using LGBTQ+ and use the specific term that an individual identifies with.

Nonbinary

People are nonbinary if their gender identity is not strictly male or female. Not synonymous with transgender. Explain in communications if the context doesn't make it clear.

Pronouns

Do not assume a person’s pronouns. When possible….

Queer

An umbrella term covering people who are not heterosexual or cisgender and is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. When possible, avoid using queer and use the specific term that an individual identifies with.

Same-sex marriage

Peferred term over gay marriage, because the laws generally don’t address sexual orientation. In places where it’s legal, same-sex marriage is no different from other marriages, so the term should be used only when important and needed to distinguish from marriages between male-female heterosexual couples:

  • Gertrude Boxer and Savannah Boxer dated for several years before their marriage in 2014.

Sex is not synonymous with gender.

Transgender (adj.)

Describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified as having at birth. Identify people as transgender only if pertinent, and use the name by which they live publicly:

  • Bernard is a transgender man.
  • Christina is transgender.

The shorthand trans is acceptable on second reference and in headlines: Grammys add first man and first trans woman as trophy handlers.

Do not use as a noun, such as referring to someone as a transgender, or use the term transgendered.

Woman, women

Use female as an adjective, not woman:

  • She is the first female governor of North Carolina.