How we write about sexuality and gender.
The language around sexuality and gender is evolving constantly and is an area that people hold strong and differing opinions about. We are mindful that there may not be universal consensus around terminology and our usage of terms is on the advice of our communities, who were consulted in the production of this guide.
Sex and gender
We use the UK government definitions of sex and gender:
- Sex refers to the biological aspects of an individual as determined by their anatomy, which is produced by their genes, hormones and their interactions (male, female or intersex)
- Gender is a social construction relating to behaviours and attributes based on labels of masculinity and femininity. Gender identity is a personal, internal perception of oneself and so the gender category someone identifies with may not match the sex they were registered at birth.
In general, we will reference gender if it is relevant to the piece being written. As with language around other identities, we will ask people how they describe themselves rather than assuming. We are also mindful that gender can be fluid and a person’s gender may change over time.
Gender neutral terms
We recommend using gender neutral terms.
- ‘Everyone’ or ‘colleagues’, rather than ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or ‘guys’
- ‘Parent’ or ‘guardian’, rather than ‘mother’ or ‘father’
- ‘Chairperson’ or ‘spokesperson’ rather than ‘chairman’ or ‘spokeswoman’
We use pronouns in everyday language to talk about people.
When writing about someone, we always ask what pronouns they are using at the moment and we are mindful that this may change.
- She, her, hers, herself
- He, him, his, himself
- They, them, theirs, themself or themselves
There are many reasons why a person may wish to change their name, including if they identify as a different gender than they were registered at birth. We use the person's name at the time of writing. If we are not sure of their current name, we always ask.
We never include any previous name a person may have been known by, unless they have given express permission and it is relevant to the piece.
At the University of Edinburgh, we write the acronym that expresses sexuality as LGBT+.
When writing about individuals, we mention sexuality only when relevant to the context of the communication we are preparing.
We always ask a person how they would like to be described before we write about them.
When we write about groups, we try to use language preferred by the group. We recognise that definitions vary globally depending on cultural context, and the language in this area is evolving continuously.