The Enlightened Man's Guide to LGBT-Friendly Language
Look. We know we're not perfect. Even if we consider ourselves fairly enlightened, we sometimes mess up, and we mess up bad. (Hi, Jake Zyrus. We're still sorry and embarrassed.)
But do please give us some credit for trying to make better men of ourselves. Thankfully, we've taken our past mistakes as a learning experience, so, while we understand that it can be a confusing new world out there, we took time to study the GLAAD Media Reference Guide so that our words could better reflect our intentions.
Here are some of the things we've learned about using the proper language to refer to our friends in the LGBT community, which we're glad to share to all allies and well-meaning—but occasionally clumsy—men out there.
Sexual Orientation. GLAAD approves this as the "scientifically accurate" term that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and even heterosexual orientations. Avoid: "Sexual preference," because it suggests that being LGBT is voluntary, and can therefore be changed, or, god forbid, "cured."
Gay. This is an acceptable adjective to use when describing people who are attracted to other people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay woman)—it is less acceptable when used as a noun ("he is a gay"). "Lesbian" as a noun or as an adjective is sometimes the preferred term for women. Avoid: "Homosexuals," as that's an outdated term with derogatory connotations.
Bisexual, Bi. This can get complicated, so we'll quote the GLAAD guidelines in full: "A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. People may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime. Bisexual people need not have had specific sexual experiences to be bisexual; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to identify as bisexual."
Transgender. This refers to people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors, while others undergo surgery as well—but not all transgender people can or will take those steps. Remember that a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures. When in doubt, take the lead from and use the terms preferred by the person. GLAAD has an entire section devoted to a glossary of terms for transgender people that is explains many other words in detail.
Queer. Sexuality is fluid, and for those people who find the words gay, lesbian, or bisexual too limiting, "queer" can be the term of choice. It used to be a negative word, but now the term has been reclaimed by the LGBT community.
LGBT or LGBTQ. Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Sometimes the Q may refer to "questioning." Avoid: "Gay community," as that may not reflect the diversity of the community. "LGBTQ community" is better.
Homophobia. The unreasonable fear of people who are attracted to the same sex. Not something a modern man should have.
Biphobia. Fear of bisexuals. GLAAD points out that these fears are usually "based on stereotypes, including inaccurate associations with infidelity, promiscuity, and transmission of sexually transmitted infections."
MORE TERMS TO AVOID
"[LGBTQ] Lifestyle" Is there such a thing as a straight lifestyle? Of course not. There is neither one LGBTQ lifestyle. It's usually used as an insult, to further the false idea that being gay is a choice.
"Admitted homosexual" or "avowed homosexual" These are archaic terms used to describe people who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer. Using "admitted" or "avowed" suggests that being gay should be something you keep secret.
"Gay agenda" or "homosexual agenda" This is a term that anti-LGBTQ extremists have used to imply that those who campaign for equal rights are driven by a sinister motive.