Style guides and LGBTQ+ terminology

originally posted November 21, 2021
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While fact-checking some text for a few recent publications, I stumbled across this colorful infographic, defined and published by the Equity and Inclusion Office, University of British Columbia (see links and more information in the credit line below), along with an updated—and rather thorough—list of LGBT2SQIA+ words and terminology with very well conceived definitions.

That list of terms, compiled from multiple resources, was published by the LGBTQ Center at Montclair State University in New Jersey. While confessing, “No glossary will encompass the complete range of identities and terms that are used within LGBTQ communities,” the web page goes on to warn, wisely, that, “Over time, language and terminology may shift. Pay close attention to and mirror the language the individual uses to identify.” Those shifts seem to be happening more and more quickly, and that warning—which also applies to wording related to race and gender—has become of paramount importance for today’s editors. In fact, some publishers (including the Washington Post and the Guardian) have created separate positions for “diversity readers” who are designated to assist and double-check editors.

For those of you who are interested in delving deeper, writer and activist Thursday Bram once blogged about our evolving language. “Different communities use different words in different ways,” she said. “Language grows and changes to cover new concepts constantly. . . . These changes are routine, through conversation, slang, academic use, memes, translation, and literally every other time we communicate.” Some of my favorite lines of her post follow: “Trying to stop the growth of language is like shouting into the wind. Even if it makes you feel better, it’s not effective. And, honestly, most attempts to control language come with a lot of elitist and biased crap.” As a longtime editor, I can totally agree!

I came across that post, “Styling for inclusion: how shaping a style guide shapes our discussions,” while trying to locate information on The Responsible Communication Style Guide, a resource she co-created and helped publish, initially, in 2016. That community-compiled style guide was started partly because standard

style guides, like the Associated Press Stylebook [or Chicago Manual of Style], . . . don’t cover identity well—if they mention topics like gender or race at all, they just touch on the surface. Identity is a crucial topic for anyone writing today to get right, especially in fields . . . where we need to talk about our users and audience in a way they find inclusive and understanding. The Responsible Communication Style Guide covers how to write about five key topics: race, gender, sexuality, religion, and health and well-being.*

While that resource may have been one of the first to explore alternatives to the everyday, WASPy practices employed by generations of writers, even if unknowingly or cluelessly, it certainly was not the last. Explore some newer options to more-balanced language, words of inclusivity, and terms for diversity below.

Lastly, in addition to its own online “Diversity Style Guide” (originally a project of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism based in the Journalism Department of San Francisco State University but currently compiled by a team supported with grants from the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at SF State and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists), the organization has published its own list of specialty and organizational style guides at DiversityStyleGuide.com. “This [list] is not a guide to being politically correct. Rather, it offers guidance, context, and nuance for media professionals struggling to write about people who are different from themselves and communities different from their own.”

Please let us know if you’re familiar with other similar resources or updates we should know about.

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image information: Featured image is a partial infographic of LGBT2SQIA+ terminology—defined and published by the Equity and Inclusion Office, University of British Columbia—that appeared as part of an article (“We’re queer, we’re here: Queer and trans visibility at UBC” by Iman Baobeid and Rachel Lau) describing on-campus efforts to build “Positive Spaces” (the Positive Space Campaign) for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary), two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBT2SQIA+) students, staff, and faculty at UBC; the full infographic appears here.

* This wording was copied from a review of The Responsible Communication Style Guide that was posted in January 2017 at the Education and Research Archive of the University of Alberta. For more background on The Responsible Communication Style Guide, visit their archived KickStarter campaign page.


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