The Clear Language Lab recently facilitated a workshop on LGBTQ+ affirming language that supports all staff, participants, and community members. We want to continue that conversation with our blog community to share highlights from the training and practices we can all implement going forward.
What does this have to do with plain language and clear communication? A big part of plain language is helping the intended audience understand your message. If we are using language that is outdated, inaccurate, or just plain disrespectful, it will be hard for our audience to connect with what we are saying.
Use gender-neutral terms
There are a variety of ways gender is unnecessarily embedded in our everyday language: congressman, mailman, mankind, freshman, and the list goes on. This is an easy fix though! Use a gender-neutral alternative:
Congressman ➝ Congressperson, Representative, Senator
Mailman ➝ Mail carrier, postal worker
Mankind ➝ Humankind, people
Freshman ➝ 1st-year student
Skip the binary pronouns in text
There are a lot of strategies that improve the flow of writing rather than using phrases like he/she. Why should we use gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them/theirs, and wording when writing? First of all, it’s more inclusive and doesn’t assume that everyone falls into binary gender identities or assumes the gender of the reader. Second, it’s less clunky and flows more smoothly. Third, it’s just more clear. Here are several ways to make your writing gender-neutral and inclusive for everyone!
Does your content use images that are positive and avoid stereotypes? Do you include representation of LGBT+ people beyond Pride month? What about diverse representations of families and couples? Not sure where to get started? Stock photo collections such as the Gender Spectrum Collection at Vice, Canva, and Humaans are just a few examples of sites that can help you make sure that your participants and staff feel seen. Consider a visible pride flag or explicitly affirming language such as “we welcome people of all gender identities and sexualities” as additional options.
If this information is new for you, practice! Take the extra time to review your content through this lens. It doesn’t take long to implement these strategies that can make a big push toward inclusivity.
As well, be mindful about not putting this work on the shoulders of LGBTQ+ staff members to address. Consider using follow-up surveys, conducting focus groups (with participants compensated for their time!), or reaching out to a local university gender studies department or LGBTQ+ organization if you need feedback or guidance.