Language Within the LGBTQ+ Community

As we finish our first full month of the semester, we are starting October (LGBTQ+ History Month) by talking about supporting LGBTQ+ people in your office/department. Millions of people in the United States belong to the LGBTQ+ community (Gallup, 2021), which means that even if you don’t consciously know it, there’s probably at least one person around you who is LGBTQ+. Visit the LGBTQ+ Culture Center’s website for more information about ongoing events and trainings that can help you grow as an ally for gender and sexuality equity.

Reflect: What’s in a name? - Language Within the LGBTQ+ Community

The language used to describe gender and sexuality evolves to reflect continuously changing knowledge around these identities. Because of this, it can be hard to understand just how people describe themselves in the LGBTQ+ community. Check out this informative (and frequently updated) glossary from PFLAG to learn about the variety of terms used within the LGBTQ+ community. Another aspect of language for this community is pronouns. Using people’s pronouns isn’t new – we’ve all used them in one form or another (e.g., “he didn’t turn in his work”). Following the pronouns someone has asked us to use for them shows that we respect and see them for who they are. provides in-depth resources on pronouns. Similarly, we must always respect someone’s name, as it’s not uncommon for trans and non-binary people to change their name after coming out. Calling a trans person by their chosen name is integral to including them within your working/learning environment, and can lead to a decrease in negative mental health outcomes (Russell, Pollitt, Li, & Grossman, 2018).

Learn: LGBTQ+ Student, Staff, and Faculty Experiences

While scholars have discussed growth in climate and support for LGBTQ+ students, that progress is “not consistent” (para. 7; Renn, 2017). For example, these students in STEM majors view their fields as having a “bro culture,” which objectified/sexualized cisgender women and was rife with assumed heterosexuality, hypermasculinity, and microaggressions that erase LGBTQ+ people or downplay their intelligence (Miller, Vaccaro, Kimball, & Forester, 2021). For faculty and staff, discrimination (despite federal level rulings that include LGBTQ+ people under anti-discrimination protections [Liptak, 2021]) and tokenization is common. Recently, Dr. Rachel Tudor, an indigenous and trans professor, won her years-long legal battle with Southeastern Oklahoma State University after the 10th Circuit court ruled that the university denied her tenure promotion because of her gender and retaliated against her when she filed complaints (Planas, 2021). Pryor and Hoffman (2020) found that publicly out LGBTQ+ student affairs practitioners often burn out as a result of being expected to teach a large number of people about LGBTQ+ topics/issues without proper administrative support or funding.

Change: Creating Inclusive Environments for Gender and Sexuality Equity

  • Respect pronouns and names: One way to create an inclusive environment for gender diversity is to normalize the recognition/use of pronouns by introducing yourself with your name and pronouns in every meeting or including them in your email signature. Many university systems, such as Canvas, include the option to select pronouns that are visible but do not require announcement. Encourage others to follow your example, but don’t force anyone to share their pronouns – this can make anyone who is not ready to share uncomfortable.
  • Use gender-neutral language: Gender-neutral language is an important step towards making space for the diversity of gender. If you are referring to someone and you don’t know their pronouns, default to using “they” (e.g., “I saw them speak this weekend”). Using gender neutral language also prevents you from assuming sexuality. Instead of saying “husband” or “girlfriend,” use words like “significant other” or “partner” to make space for all kinds of relationships.
  • Interrogate microaggressions you hear: There are plenty of microaggressions that LGBTQ+ people hear every day, such as “It’s a shame you’re a lesbian, you’re so pretty” or “you look better in that dress than I would!” If you hear microaggressions that question/antagonize the gender and/or sexuality of someone around you, simply ask “What makes you say that?” Doing this forces the person to justify why they thought it was okay to say something like that.