[Editor’s Note: One of the most perennially popular articles on PRNEWS is an article reviewing AP style. As language evolves, we decided to deliver a new series of AP style updates that may be helpful for communicating on and around emerging topics. Our series will look at terms regarding COVID-19, cryptocurrency, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), among others.]
Today we take a look at DEI terminology to ensure proper use for important campaigns, announcements and releases. While the 2020 print version of the Associated Press Stylebook squeaked in a few terms before press time, up-to-date terms can be found in its online directory. If you don’t have a subscription, several websites and organizations, including the Diversity Style Guide and GLAAD, have been keeping communications professionals informed on correct language.
While DEI covers a wide range of topics from race to gender to disability language, we’ve included some common terms here to pay attention to in your writing. Note that our list is not exhaustive.
Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. Use of LGBTQ is best as an adjective and an umbrella term. Don't use it, for instance, when the group you're referring to is limited to bisexuals. Queer is an umbrella term covering people who are not heterosexual and is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. The NLGJA (Association of LGBTQ Journalists) notes that some organizations add a + sign (as in LGBT+ or LGBTQ+) to ensure all are included.
Walters joined the LGBTQ business association.
Used to describe people attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Preferred over homosexual. Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references to sexual preference or to a gay or alternative lifestyle. The term gays is acceptable as a plural noun when necessary, but do not use the singular gay as a noun. Lesbian is acceptable as a noun in singular or plural form. Sexual orientation is not synonymous with gender.
Cheryl came out as a lesbian in college, after dating Anna.
He has crusaded tirelessly for gay rights.
Capitalize Pride when referring to events or organizations honoring LGBTQ communities and on subsequent references. Lowercase pride when referring to generic events or the general concept of LGBTQ pride.
“Are you going to Pride?” she asked.
Several cities are holding Pride events this weekend.
He attended a gay pride parade.
Describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified as having at birth. Does not require what are known as sex reassignment or gender confirmation procedures. Identify people as transgender only if pertinent, and use the name by which they live publicly. The shorthand trans is acceptable on second reference and in headlines. Do not use as a noun, such as referring to someone as a transgender, or use the term transgendered.
Bernard is a transgender man. Christina is transgender.
She was the Grammy Awards' first trans woman trophy handler.
Gender and sexuality
Gender is not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics.
Some people believe your gender can only be male or female based on your birth certificate, but others think gender is just a cultural label.
Do not use either term as a singular noun. For plurals, phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students is often preferable when clearly relevant. The plural nouns Blacks and whites are most often used in academic writing and data reporting (see example below). Black and white are acceptable as adjectives when relevant.
Use the capitalized term Black as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges.
African American is also acceptable for those in the U.S., although the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American.
Use Negro or colored only in names of organizations or in rare quotations when essential for historical reference.
White officers account for 64% of the police force, Black officers 21% and Latino officers 15%.
He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian Americans.
The gunman targeted Black churchgoers.
Acceptable for an American of Asian descent. When possible, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person’s preference. For example: Filipino American or Indian American. Do not describe Pacific Islanders as Asian Americans, Asians or of Asian descent. Avoid using Asian as shorthand for Asian American when possible. Do not use oriental to refer to East Asian nationals and their peoples.
The Asian American community has seen an influx of violent acts since the arrival of coronavirus on U.S. shores.
Avoid this broad and imprecise term in racial, ethnic or cultural references unless as part of a direct quotation. Interpretations of what the term includes vary widely. Use specific racial identities.
The Black, Latino and Indian communities gathered to discuss their annual neighborhood cultural celebration.
People of color, racial minority
The terms people of color and racial minority/minorities are generally acceptable terms to describe people of races other than white in the United States. Avoid using POC. When talking about just one group, be specific: Chinese Americans or members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, for example. Be mindful that some Native Americans say the terms people of color and racial minority fall short by not encompassing their sovereign status. Avoid referring to an individual as a minority unless in a quotation. In recent months, the acronym BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) has become popular, though the AP Stylebook has yet to add an entry.
Voter turnout for minorities in the downtown district showed an increase compared to 2018, with Chinese Americans and Latinos bringing in 35% of the votes.
Latino is often the preferred noun or adjective for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latina is the feminine form. Some prefer the recently coined gender-neutral term Latinx, which should be confined to quotations, names of organizations or descriptions of individuals who request it and should be accompanied by a short explanation. Hispanics is also generally acceptable for those in the U.S. Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian or Mexican American.
Hernandez prefers the gender-neutral term Latinx.
American Indians, Native Americans
Both are acceptable terms in general references for those in the U.S. when referring to two or more people of different tribal affiliations. For individuals, use the name of the tribe; if that information is not immediately available, try to obtain it. Some tribes and tribal nations use member; others use citizen. If in doubt, use citizen. Avoid words such as wampum, warpath, powwow, teepee, brave, squaw, etc., which can be disparaging and offensive.
Indian is used to describe the peoples and cultures of the South Asian nation of India. Do not use the term as a shorthand for American Indians.
He is a Navajo commissioner.
She is a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe.
He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
A 1990 U.S. law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. ADA is acceptable on second reference. The law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It does not specifically name all disabilities that are covered.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows for those who are wheelchair-bound to request an ADA-compliant entrance.
Do not describe an individual as having a disability unless it is clearly pertinent to the story. Be specific about the type of disability, or symptoms. Avoid the term handicap for a disability or handicapped for a person. Avoid using disability-related words lightly or in unrelated situations, such as fell on deaf ears or turned a blind eye.
Merritt, who is blind and walks with the help of a guide dog, said she is pleased with the city’s walkway improvements.
Not: Zhang, who has paraplegia, is a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The woman said the airline kicked her family off a plane after her 3-year-old, who has autism, refused to wear a mask. She said her son became upset because he does not like to have his face touched.
Mental illness is a general term. Specific conditions are disorders and should be used whenever possible. Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from, victim of, battling and demons. Avoid terms such as the mentally ill. Instead: people with mental illnesses. Do not use wording such as he is a schizophrenic, she was anorexic or he is mentally ill.
Use the term mental or psychiatric hospital, not asylum.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents.
She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents.
He said he was treated for depression.
Special needs, special education
When possible, avoid these terms. While they remain in wide use in education and law, many view them as euphemistic and offensive. Instead, aim to be specific about the needs or services in question. Avoid writing that implies ableism: the belief that typical abilities—those of people who aren’t disabled—are superior.
These are just a few of the terms associated with DEI. Find more in the AP Stylebook. Additionally, check out our guide to culturally conscious emojis.
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal