LGBTQ Inclusive Language for diversifying media representation

The Challenges of LGBTQ Media Representation

LGBTQ people may be suspicious of media outreach. We can be reluctant to share our stories because we’ve witnessed firsthand the blowback from a bad or biased story.

When we are seen, we are frequently reduced to stereotypes or objectified as something to be for or against.

I mean this literally. The US Senate just voted to affirm our right to stable legal partnerships, which while appreciated, remains a gesture of inclusion. Amid token gestures like these, the larger stories of LGBTQ lives continue to go untold.

Let’s pause for a second to consider the effect.

When LGBTQ people are not featured in news stories, we are not seen or heard. When we tend to be heard on issues like sex and marriage, or discrimination, harmful stereotypes are reinforced.

These include the dismissal of LGBTQ people as sexually deviant, hyper sexual and the like. Or the conflation of LGBTQ people with hyper sensitivity, victimization, or wanting special treatment when what we want is to be respected.

Inclusive Media Representation Starts With Journalists and Freelancers

I’d like to encourage the news makers–the journalists and freelancers who pitch stories and shape the new that gets told–to do better by LGBTQ communities.

Journalists and freelance writers think small when they think the only kinds of LGBTQ stories are pop cultural or issues stories like same-sex marriage or continuing fights over trans youth sports participation.

I encourage writers to think intersectionally about framing stories, including sources, and discussing impact.

I welcome more stories the elevate BIPOC voices, consider a disability angle or include single parents, poly parents and queer parents in stories on parenting and relationships–just to name a few ways other types of diverse voices can contribute to stories that aren’t simply issue stories.

But since I am an LGBTQ travel writer who is gender non conforming, I’ve chosen to focus on how writers can diversify stories through the inclusion of LGBTQ voices, specifically.

Read on for:

  • Why to include diverse sources in stories
  • LGBTQ inclusive language to use and insensitive or outdated terms to avoid
  • A big list of inclusive language guides covering race, ethnicity, immigration status, class, age – because I am committed to diversity and inclusion beyond the LGBTQ umbrella

How to be Inclusive of LGBTQ Sources

See our stories as valid

A pet peeve of mine is stories that center exclusively cis, straight sources but don’t have to. Every time I read a parenting, relationship, or finance story that centers the cis, straight, two-parent norm, I think of all the single parents, poly families, and LGBTQ families who are amazing role models of ways to disrupt toxic gendered patterns of relationship–if only the media would see us as sources!

Journalists must do better when sourcing their stories. LGBTQ perspectives enrich all types of stories. We should be included in stories that don’t fall under so-called LGBTQ beats: issue stories involving trans youth, same-sex marriage and wedding stories, LGBTQ pop culture stories, and coming out as LGBTQ stories.

Use LGBTQ inclusive language

Here are an assortment of LGBTQ inclusive language and style guides from media associations to help journalists provide fair and accurate coverage of LGBTQ people and topics.

People have pronouns. But journalists don’t need to launch into an overwrought explanation that a source goes by they/them or ze/hir. Then can just drop the pronoun into the sentence, the same as for he and she.

Treat us like you would everyone else. There is no preamble required.

For this and other LGBTQ inclusive language, use a style guide that lists preferred terms and gives the context on why LGBTQ inclusive language matters.

Language and preferred terms are always evolving. However these guides will give you a place to double-check your word choice. They’ll help you understand why a term is disliked without you having to ask an source to explain it to you. And they can help you frame your questions for more impactful stories.

Trans Journalists Association Style Guide

This invaluable resources includes:

  • Guidelines for diversifying newsrooms and improving trans coverage
  • Language to avoid, with an explanation of why it’s harmful and what to say instead
  • Glossary of terms – when writers understand terms, they write better journalism

The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook

Maintained and updated by the NGLJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, this resource is available for free online.

GLAAD Media Reference Guide

GLAAD’s style guide include contexts, what not to do, and general guidelines that will help journalists get up to speed on LGBTQ issues and sensitively work with LGBTQ sources.

Ask us how we want to be identified, and honor our choices

The LGBTQ inclusive language guides above share one commonality, which is to identify people how they want to be identified. Just ask, then be respectful and use the language they provide.

My Scripts for Asking How a Source Identifies

Instead of asking about pronouns, I provide sources with an open-ended way to answer the question of how they identify. This allows them to tell me the information they want to tell me without specifying that it tick a box or fit a format.

If I need clarification, I will double check on terms or pronouns.

For me, this I a much more comfortable way to ask the question. For the source, it lets them have control of framing their identity and telling their own stories.

Here are a few of the ways I’ve asked LGBTQ people how they identify when I’m organizing interviews. Feel free to use it or make it your own. Together, we can create more inclusive stories!

1. What is your gender/sexual orientation? If there are other aspects of your identity that shape how you move though the world, please share them. 

2. Tell me about your affiliation with LGBTQ+ identities (this can be your gender, sexuality,  pronoun – whatever you’d like me to know)

Other Inclusive Style Guides

For intersectionality, here are a few other inclusive style guides to bookmark:

  • Conscious Style Guide – an umbrella guide covering multiple communities
  • Language, Please – a resource form Vox Media on how to cover social, cultural and identity topics with grace
  • DEI Style Guide (University of Iowa) – this resources covers race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, immigration status, disability, and income
  • Asian American Journalists Association – [their style guide is currently being updated, and a link will be put in when the new version is ready]
  • National Association of Black Journalists – style guide for writing about Black communities
  • National Association of Hispanic Journalists – cultural competence handbook for covering Latine communities
  • Native American Journalists Association offers multiple resources for reporting on indigenous communities, from media guides to how to find a Native source to fair and ethical reporting on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and other legislation on native land
  • National Center on Disability and Journalism has a disability language style guide plus translations into Spanish, Italian and Romanian
  • Style Guide on Aging, and how to discuss getting older with grace and respect for sources’ lived experience
  • The Marshall Project offers language to use (and avoid) when writing about currently and formerly incarcerated folks

Let’s make journalism more representative of all of us

Language changes often. These resources may fall out of date and I may have missed a valuable guide. If there is something you would like to see here, please let me know!