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Gender and sexuality

The language around gender and sexuality changes all the time. It's an area that people hold strong and differing opinions about. As with language around race, disability, and other identities, it’s always best to ask people how they identify rather than assuming.

In general:

  • Make content gender-neutral and strive to write in a gender-fair way
  • If you're writing about a hypothetical person or if you're unsure of the person's pronouns, use they, them or their instead of he/she, his/her
  • Avoid words and phrases that indicate gender bias, such as irrelevant descriptions of appearance
  • Use descriptors of gender identity or sexual orientation as modifiers, not as nouns. For example; a transgender person, a lesbian woman
  • Avoid guessing sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation

 Be consistent about how you address people. People in authority are more likely to be referred to by their surname if they are a man, and by their first name if they are a woman. Avoid this by always using someone's full name on the first mention and then their surname after that.

Don't use "he" to refer to an unspecified person – instead use "they" as a singular pronoun without gender. For example:

"When the lecturer arrives they will be required to fill out the appropriate paperwork."

When using words for particular roles that are associated with gender, consider if you would describe someone not of the specified gender using that term – if you wouldn't, use a different term to describe that role. If at all possible use a gender-neutral term.

Chairman

Chairwoman

Housewife

Househusband

Chair

Homemaker

Not everyone identifies as either male or female, and you must be considerate of this.

  • When designing forms, is information about the gender of the person relevant to your data collection? If not, do not ask. If essential, allow users to define their own gender by providing an open field, rather than offering limited options
  • Avoid asking people for their title, such as Mr, Miss, Mrs, or Ms
  • Avoid describing individuals in regard to their sexuality. Where it is essential, consider what the individual has expressed their sexuality to be, and use their own terms. If you do not know and still need to describe them use the term LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus)