Inclusive Language Guide

Terminology: Sexual orientation


This refers to a woman who is romantically and sexually attracted to other women.


This refers to someone who is romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same gender identity as themselves. It is usually used to refer to men who are attracted to other men but may also be used by women.


This refers to a person who is romantically and sexually attracted to individuals of their own gender and other genders.


This refers to someone who does not experience sexual attraction. They may still experience feelings of affection towards another person.


This refers to people who are romantically and sexually attracted to people of all genders.


Queer is an umbrella term used by some people to describe non-conforming gender identities and sexual orientations.

Terminology: Intersex


This refers to the diversity of physical characteristics between the stereotypical male and female characteristics. Intersex people have reproductive organs, chromosomes or other physical sex characteristics that are neither wholly female nor wholly male. Intersex is a description of biological diversity and may or may not be the identity used by an intersex person.

Terminology: Gender identity

Trans (Transgender)

This refers to a person whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not align with their sex assigned at birth. In Australia, at birth children are assigned male or female. Male children are raised as boys and female children are raised as girls. A person classified as female at birth who identifies as a man may use the label trans, transman or man. Similarly, a person classified as male at birth who identifies as a woman may use the label trans, transwoman or woman.

Gender diverse and non-binary

This refers to people who do not identify as a woman or a man. In the same way that sexual orientation and gender expression are not binaries, gender identity is not a binary either. It is important to challenge our thinking beyond the binary constructs of male and female.

Some people may identify as agender (having no gender), bigender (both a woman and a man) or non-binary (neither woman nor man). There is a diverse range of non-binary gender identities such as genderqueer, gender neutral, genderfluid and third gendered. It is important to be aware that language in this space is still evolving and people may have their own preferred gender identities that are not listed here.

Brotherboys and Sistergirls

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may use these terms to refer to transgender people. Brotherboy typically refers to masculine spirited people who are born female, and Sistergirl typically refers to feminine spirited people who are born male.


This refers to people whose gender identity is in line with the social expectations of their sex assigned at birth. It is a term used to describe people who are not transgender.

How to use inclusive language

Use appropriate terminology

It is important to remember that you should only refer to people’s sexual orientation or gender identity with the appropriate terms. Although terms such as ‘dyke’ and ‘fag’ may be used by LGBTI people themselves, this terminology is likely to be seen as derogatory if used by someone who is not part of the subgroup. Furthermore, using the word ‘gay’ to refer to negative situations or phenomenon unrelated to sexual orientation is offensive and unacceptable.

Avoid heteronormativity/heterosexism

Heteronormativity is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual (straight), and that this is the norm. Heterosexism is the belief that non-heteronormative sexual orientations or gender identities are unnatural. Avoid using language which assumes all relationships are heterosexual, as this denies the experiences of same sex couples. It is better to use the word ‘partner’ than ‘wife/husband’ where the gender, sexual orientation or relationship status of a person is unknown. When someone mentions their children, remind yourself that this doesn’t necessarily mean they are in a heterosexual relationship, and avoid making assumptions.

Avoid misgendering

Misgendering is using language to refer to a person that is not aligned with how that person identifies their own gender or body. Most but not all intersex and trans people who identify as male prefer to be referred to as ‘he’. Most but not all intersex and trans people who identify as female prefer to be referred to as ‘she’. Some people prefer to be described with their first name only or a non-binary pronoun such as ‘they’ rather than a gendered pronoun. Others prefer no pronoun at all.

Also be aware that some gender neutral pronouns exist, such as ‘zie’ and ‘hir’. If unsure, you can ask someone directly what their preferred pronoun is in a respectful manner. Where possible, check privately to reduce discomfort. If you do make a mistake, apologise promptly and move on, it will likely make the person feel more uncomfortable if you dwell on the mistake. Try to avoid making the same mistake again.

Avoid offensive questions

Most people would find it inappropriate to be asked questions about their genitals or breasts. It is therefore not appropriate to ask questions about whether a trans person has had surgery. Similarly, most people would find it inappropriate to be referred to with reference to their anatomical or medical history. In the same way trans people should not be referred to with reference to whether or not they have had surgery.

Respect people’s experiences

A trans or gender diverse person may refer to their gender affirmation rather than transition. They may prefer the phrase gender affirmation as it aligns with how they have always identified. Transitioning implies that they are changing from one gender to another. It is important to use respectful language in line with the person’s own experiences. Some refer to ‘aligning’ their body and gender rather than transitioning.

There can be diversity within diversity

People who identify as LGBTI may also identify with other diversity groups such as CALD or disabled. Language used should not assume primacy of one dimension. The diversity within any one element of L,G,B,T or I needs to be respected.

Include non-binary options on forms and databases

Sex and gender-restrictive forms and databases with only ‘male’ and ‘female’ may exclude trans, intersex and gender diverse people from participating. Identify ways to change systems so they are more inclusive of non-binary people.

For the majority of people (around 98%), there is a correlation between their sex and gender (eg. their sex is female and their gender is female). The conceptual difference between the two concepts is therefore not well understood by the general public, and they are often used interchangeably in legislation and the media.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has introduced a new Standard for Sex and Gender Variables with the following standard tick box question module for sex. The ‘Male’ response option is shown first due to tradition in the ABS and alignment with other collections.

What is your sex? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.
Other, please specify . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The gender question module mirrors the above:

What is your gender? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.
Other, please specify . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


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