This stylebook seeks to be a guide on language and terminology to help journalists cover LGBTQ subjects and issues with sensitivity and fairness, without bias or judgment. Because language is always changing, this guide is not definitive or fully inclusive. When covering the LGBTQ community, we encourage you to use the language and terminology your subjects use. They are the best source for how they would like to be identified.
AIDS (see HIV/AIDS)
agender (see transgender)
ally (see LGBT, LGBTQ)
asexual (see LGBT, LGBTQ)
bathroom bill (see transgender)
biological (see transgender)
bisexual (see LGBT, LGBTQ)
cisgender (see transgender)
civil union (see marriage and relationships)
commitment ceremony (see marriage and relationships)
domestic partner (see marriage and relationships)
drag queen, female impersonator
gay (see LGBTQ, LGBTQ)
Since AIDS emerged in gay men in the early 1980s, coverage of the LGBTQ community has often been intertwined with it and therefore is included in this style guide.
Men who have sex with men remain among the communities most affected by HIV/AIDS, but
many other demographics are also disproportionately affected. Moreover, HIV infection is now considered a manageable condition, not the oft-repeated “death sentence” it once was. Coverage and word choice should take these factors into account. Some guidance on commonly used terms in HIV/AIDS coverage follows:
intersex (see LGBT, LGBTQ)
Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/ or questioning.
It may be tempting for journalists to refer to the LGBTQ community. In reality, it is a broad and sometimes loosely bound group of communities comprising people from all races, religions, cultures and walks of life.
Referring to LGBTQ people is usually more accurate than defining it as one community.
There is not universal agreement on a name. Just LGBT leaves out many people who define their sexual orientation or gender identity in ways that may be similar to but not the same as lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Some alternatives exist but may be cumbersome or unfamiliar to general audiences and could require explanation. LGBTQ includes people who identify as queer or who are questioning their sexual orientation; LGBTQIA includes intersex and asexual people.
Organizations sometimes go with LGBT+ to make sure everyone is included.
The current recommendation of NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists is LGBTQ — as the organization’s name indicates — but writers and organizations should decide for themselves, based on their audience, whether more or less specificity is needed.
Details on some terms commonly used, or misused, in news coverage of LGBTQ people follow:
marriage and relationships
LGBTQ people use various terms to describe their romantic and/or legal commitments to another person, and they may vary by sexual orientation, gender identity or just personal preference.
If possible, ask subjects which terms they prefer. Some detailed guidance on terms relating to marriage and other relationships for same-sex couples follows:
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists
nonbinary (see transgender)
obituaries (see marriage and relationships)
queer (see LGBTQ)
religious liberty, religious freedom
safe sex, safer sex (see HIV/AIDS)
Generally, transgender describes people whose gender identity and/ or expression may not match their physical, sexual characteristics or sex assigned at birth.
But the word can mean different things to different people. Journalists covering transgender people must ensure they correctly understand and communicate the parameters of the community or communities about which they are reporting.
In a strict sense, the term transgender includes people who were assigned as male or female at birth and later identified as the other. But it sometimes is understood as an umbrella term covering other people with nontraditional gender identities, possibly including but not limited to genderqueer and agender people.
Some cross-dressers, drag queens and kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex people may also identify as transgender.
In news coverage, identify people as transgender only when relevant to the subject matter and only if they are widely known or describe themselves as such. Otherwise, describe trans men as men and trans women as women.
Using it as a noun — as in a transgender or a conference of transgenders — is inaccurate and offensive. Do not use transgendered, which is offensive and implies something must have happened to make a person transgender. People can be transgender regardless of age, but journalists should take the usual legal and ethical precautions when reporting on children.
Terminology is constantly evolving and new terms emerging.
Details on some terms commonly used, or misused, in news coverage of transgender people follow:
- bathroom bill
- gender confirmation, gender confirmation surgery
- gender dysphoria
- gender expression
- gender fluid
- gender identity
- gender nonconforming (adj.), gender nonconformity (n.)
- gender transition, transition
- gender variant
- sex change
- transgender man/boy
- transgender woman/girl
- two spirit
Updated December 2021