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LGBTQ+ Terms to Avoid and What to Use Instead

It is essential for allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community to know and use the proper terms within the community

It is essential for allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community to know and use the proper terms within the community. Here are some examples of LGBTQ+ terms to avoid, and what terminology is appropriate to use instead.

Lesbian / Gay / Bisexual / Queer to Avoid and Use

1) Don’t say:” homosexual” (as a noun or adjective)

The word “homosexual” has a clinical history and is often used by anti-LGBTQ extremists. It implies that gay people are diseased or have a psychological or emotional disorder. These ideas have been discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association since the 1970s. 

What to say instead:” gay,” gay man,” or “lesbian,” “gay person/people.” Use gay or lesbian when discussing people attracted to members of the same sex.

2) Don’t say:” homosexual relations/relationship,” “homosexual couple,” “homosexual sex.”

When you identify a same-sex couple as “a homosexual couple,” it classifies their relationship as “a homosexual relationship.” By referring to their intimacy as “homosexual sex” is highly offensive. Many of these ideas are frequently used by anti-LGBTQ extremists to degrade LGBTQ+ people, couples, and relationships.

What to say instead: ”relationship,” “couple” (or, if necessary, “gay/lesbian/same-sex couple”), “sex,” etc. A good rule of thumb is to avoid labeling an activity, emotion, or relationship as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer.

3) Don’t say:” sexual preference.”

The term “sexual preference” is generally used to imply that being attracted to the same sex is a choice. It then leads to the assumption that it should be “cured.”

What to say instead:” sexual orientation” or “orientation.” Sexual orientation is the accurate terminology of an individual’s romantic, physical, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same and/ or opposite sex. It is all-inclusive to LGBTQ+ sexual orientations and for straight people as well.  

4) Don’t say:” gay lifestyle,” “homosexual lifestyle,” or “transgender lifestyle.”

There is no one LGBTQ+ lifestyle. Every LGBTQ+ person is diverse in the ways that they experience and lead their lives. Phrases like “gay lifestyle,” “homosexual lifestyle,” and “transgender lifestyle” are used to degrade LGBTQ+ people. It suggests that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity is a choice, which is inaccurate. 

What to say instead: “LGBTQ people and their lives.”

5) Don’t say:” admitted homosexual” or “avowed homosexual.”

We know that homosexual is an outdated term. The words “admitted” or “avowed” imply that being attracted to the same sex is shameful or secretive.

What to say instead:” out gay man,” “out lesbian,” or “out queer person.” You can also describe the person as being out. Just be sure to avoid saying or using the word “homosexual” at any point.

6) Don’t say:” gay agenda” or “homosexual agenda”

Notions of a so-called “homosexual agenda” are inventions of Anti-LGBTQ extremists who have created terms like the “gay agenda” to instill fear when LGBTQ+ people are just trying to pursue equal opportunities. These terms give the impression that LGBTQ+ people are sinister.

What to say instead:” Accurate descriptions of the issues (e.g., “inclusion in existing nondiscrimination laws,” “securing equal employment protections”). LGBTQ+ people want to experience the same dreams, concerns, and desires as other every day North Americans. They deserve the opportunity to earn a living, be safe in their communities, and take care of their loved ones. 

7) Don’t say:” special rights”

Anti-LGBTQ extremists often describe equal protection of the law for LGBTQ+ people as “special rights.” By using this term, they create opposition to things like relationship recognition and inclusive nondiscrimination laws. 

What to say instead:” equal rights,” “equal protection”

Transgender Terms to Avoid and Use

1) Don’t say: “A transgender,” “transgenders”

Transgender is not a noun and should be used as an adjective. 

For example, do not say, “Billie is a transgender.”

What to say instead: “Billie is a transgender woman.”

2) Don’t say “Transgendered”

Transgender should never have an “ed” attached to the end. This suffix adds unnecessary length to the word, which creates confusion and grammatical errors. Since transgender aligns with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer, you would never say something like Kristen Stewart is “lesbianed,” so you wouldn’t say “Laverne Cox is transgendered.”

What to say instead: “transgender.”

3) Don’t say:” transgenderism”

Transgender people do not use the term transgenderism. Anti-transgender activists use this word as a way to dehumanize transgender people. It also suggests that they have “a condition.”

What to say instead: “being transgender.” It is essential to refer to being transgender or reference the trans community or movement for equality.

4) Don’t say: “sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative”

Terms like a “sex-change operation,” “pre-operative” or “post-operative,” inaccurately imply that a person must have surgery to transition. Make a point to avoid emphasizing surgery when talking about transgender people or the transition process.

What to say instead: “transition.”

5) Don’t say: “biologically male,” “biologically female,” “genetically male,” “genetically female,” “born a man,” “born a woman.”

These phrases above are problematic. They overly simplify a much more complex topic. Plus, sex and gender are two entirely different concepts. Also, people are born as babies, not as a man or a woman.

What to say instead:” assigned male at birth,” “assigned female at birth,” or “designated male at birth,” “designated female at birth.”

6) Don’t say: ” passing” and “stealth.”

Some transgender folks may use these words among themselves. However, it is not appropriate for anyone outside the community to use these terms. The terms “passing” and “stealth” means that a transgender person can go through their everyday life without other people assuming that they are transgender. These terms, though, are problematic.

“Passing” suggests that someone is passing as something that they’re not,” meanwhile, “stealth” implies they are deceiving someone. When transgender people live as their true selves, and people do not assume they are transgender, that does not mean the person is being deceptive. 

What to say instead:” visibly transgender.”

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.