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Gender Inclusive Language

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) people make up a large segment of the population. All people have the rights to be who they are, to be able to be open about themselves in the workplace, and to be treated with the same acceptance and respect due all individuals. Policies to support inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination need language that will include everyone. "Sexual Orientation" is not enough, as it only protects gay people who can pass as straight. It is necessary to include gender language if the entire GLBT community is to be included.

An Equal Opportunity statement of nondiscrimination and nonharassment of Transgender employees is vital. Most transgender employees are afraid to come out, in fear they will be fired or harassed if their transgender status becomes known. Many people have been fired for being transgender, fueling this fear.

It is not sufficient to merely protect "sexual orientation." This language protects who you love, but it fails to protect what you look like, how you act, or how you dress. Such characteristics fall under the category of "gender expression."

Explicit Language

The most direct approach is to identify the clause that protects race, religion, and hopefully sexual orientation, and to add gender-inclusive language next to "sexual orientation". Such language may say "gender expression" or "gender identity". Lucent Technologies set the standard for this approach, using the inclusive language "gender identity, characteristics, or expression." This language needs a set of definitions to be meaningful. This approach is recommended if you are working with a very supportive group and do not face any significant opposition.

Other organizations use the term "gender identity."  This language may protect only transsexuals and not protect crossdressers, feminine men, or masculine women. "Gender expression" is a more inclusive term, protecting what you look like, how you act, and how you dress. "Gender characteristics" protects biological attributes such as body shape, chromomsomes, voice pitch, and body hair. If only one of these three terms must be chosen, we recommend "gender expression" because it protects that which is most visible to other people, and thus what is most likely to trigger discrimination.  This table summarizes who is protected by the various terms:
  Language / Who is covered Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Gender Expression Gender Characteristics Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Characteristics, or Expression
Straight appearing gays and lesbians covered not covered not covered not covered covered covered
Gender variant gays and lesbians not covered not covered covered not covered covered covered
Gender variant heterosexuals not covered not covered covered not covered covered covered
Crossdressers not covered not covered covered not covered covered covered
Transsexuals not covered covered unclear not covered covered covered
Intersexuals not covered not covered covered covered covered covered

With a suitable definition, any term can be used. This approach was taken by the City of West Hollywood, CA. The Ordinance added gender identity as a protected category for provisions prohibiting discrimination. Gender Identity is defined as: "Gender Identity refers to a person's actual or perceived sex, and includes a person's identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not that identity, appearance, or behavior is different from the traditionally associated with the person's sex at birth."

The consenses in the Intersexual community is that, for workplace nondiscrimination purposes, "gender expression" is sufficient to protect intersexuals. For this reason, we are not stressing the inclusion of the "gender characteristics" language.

Alternatives to Explicit Gender Inclusive Language

In some situations, there are obstacles to including plain trans-inclusive language in a nondiscrimination policy. In this situation, an indirect method can have the same effect without the visibility of explicit language. With a suitable definition, any term can be used to forbid discrimination. Two approaches sometimes used are to define sexual orientation to include gender variance, or to define gender to be more inclusive than just being another word for sex For more information and examples, see our language alternatives page.


Transgender at Work recommends that the language "gender identity or expression" be included in EO nondiscrimination policies, with equal status to "sexual orientation." This language is the most inclusive, and will ensure that noone will suffer discrimination due to any aspect of their gender.

For more information

For an excellent discussion of legal issues, including many laws on the books and the language used, see Paisley Currah's and Shannon Minter's "Transgender Law" Site.

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