Inclusive language: Sexual and romantic orientation

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If you want to write inclusively, it is important to use language that doesn’t exclude or stigmatize people based on their sexual and/or romantic orientation. What do we mean by that? Well, sexual orientation refers to who you experience sexual attraction to. Romantic orientation is about who you feel romantically attracted to. Sexual orientation is often used as an umbrella term for both romantic and sexual orientation since, for many people, they are aligned. Similarly, many terms related to sexual orientation, such as bisexual or pansexual, can also be extended to refer to romantic orientation. However, terms such as biromantic, heteroromantic, or aromantic also exist to refer to romantic orientation specifically.

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Respecting people’s identities

When talking about specific people, use the terms they identify with, if known. For example, some people who are attracted to people of all genders may describe themselves as pansexual, while others may prefer terms like bisexual or queer. Some people may not want to put a label on their orientation at all.

Avoiding assumptions

When talking about groups of people rather than individuals, it’s okay to use generally accepted terms, for example, gay, lesbian, or asexual. However, be careful not to make assumptions or overgeneralizations. For example, avoid referring to all people in same-gender relationships as gay since it excludes bisexual people. If you are talking about behavior rather than identities, it might be better to use descriptive language rather than labels. For example, using phrases like ‘is attracted to men’ or ‘have relationships with women’.

Avoiding stigmatizing language

It is also very important to avoid harmful and stigmatizing terminology. For example, the word homosexual is often considered derogatory because of its clinical associations and should generally be avoided.

  • Non-inclusive: homosexual people, homosexuals, homosexual relationship
  • Inclusive: gay people, lesbians, same-gender relationship

Learn more

Want to read more about this topic? Check out the resources below:

GLAAD Media Reference Guide
APA Style: Sexual orientation

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