Updated: March 31, 2023
LGBTQ+ is an abbreviation for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning.”
LGBTQ+ (all capital letters with no spaces or periods) is Iowa’s preferred use as opposed to LGBT, GLBT, or other abbreviations. That said, if a source in your content prefers to be referred to or identified using another term or abbreviation, abide by their preference.
On first reference, explain what LGBTQ+ stands for, and use the abbreviation on subsequent mentions.
When interviewing someone or otherwise referring to a source or subject in your writing, ask the individual how they prefer to be referred to in relation to their gender and/or sexual identity (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, intersex). This may include identifications that are not common or specific. Ask, too, if there are any terms they request not be used in reference to them and in what cases.
Reasons to ask—and reasons to refrain from asking
When is it appropriate to ask a subject to disclose their sexual orientation for content? Is it ever?
Reasons to ask:
- If it adds context to the content you’re creating. Are you speaking with the person specifically because they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community? If so, ask to confirm and ask how they identify.
- If it is central to the content you’re creating. Would it seem out of place if you didn’t mention it?
- If it isn’t central to the content, what is your motivation for asking? Are you trying to add diversity to your story or highlight how different populations might be affected differently?
Reasons to avoid asking or telling:
- If it would cause harm to the subject.
- If it's merely for prurient reasons or to sensationalize the content.
- Would you include the information if the subject were heterosexual? If yes, include it for an LGBTQ+ person. If not, think about why you want to include it; it must be relevant.
Note on the use of "queer"
The word queer historically has been considered a slur, so its use should be avoided, limiting it to quotes, names of organizations, and instances when an individual indicates they would prefer it used in reference to themselves.
That said, queer has been reclaimed by many LGBTQ+ people to describe themselves, especially those from younger generations; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQ+ community.
Queer also can be used in academic circles related to domain (e.g., "queer studies") and or a range of post- structuralist theories that deal with the construction or reconstruction of sexuality and/or gender identity known as “queer theory.” Other variants, such as “quare theory,” consider the intersection of identities, such as race.
In your writing, avoid comparisons that reflect a heteronormative bias—in other words, heterosexual/cisgender as “normal” or the norm. Cisgender (pronounced “sis-gender”) refers to people whose gender identity and expression matches the biological sex they were assigned when they were born.
Reminders for writing about LGBTQ+ individuals, communities, or subjects
- If you’re creating content about research or new data, don’t refer to the findings as relevant to “the gay or LGBTQ+ community” if the information only relates to, say, gay men.
- Don’t conflate sex and gender; they aren’t the same thing.
- When talking about marriage, make sure you’re using the person’s preferred term(s), whether partner, spouse, wife, husband, or something else.
- Pay close attention to how the person you’re talking to narrates their own story and follow their lead and cues when you create content. If the person uses terms you don’t know, ask them to explain each so you’re sure to use it correctly. You can also offer to do your own research so that they don’t have the additional burden of providing education; just be sure they approve of the final content. If there is particular sensitivity on the part of a source and/or topic, build in time for a source(s) to review their quotes for accuracy.
Pronoun use for transgender sources
It is best practice to ask everyone for their pronouns of reference. Be cautious that a person’s pronouns may not correspond with the gender that may be associated with one’s name or appearance. Do not deadname—that is, using someone’s former birth name if they have changed it to align with their identity. Also, do not assume transgender status or include it if it is not germane to the story.
Note that sex, gender, and sexual orientation are not synonymous. Please refer to the Gender section of this style guide as well.
Terms to avoid
- Closeted (preferred: not out)
- Gay community (preferred: LGBTQ+ community)
- Homosexual (preferred: gay or lesbian)
- Openly gay (preferred: out)
- Queer (see discussion above)
- Lesbian women
- MTF or FTM (use male to female/female to male transition unless an individual identifies themselves this way)
- Sexual preference (preferred: sexual orientation)
- Transvestite (preferred: cross-dresser; cross-dressing does not necessarily indicate someone is gay or transgender)
For more terms, go to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide
- AP Stylebook
- CSU Campus LGBTQIA Centers
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide – 10th edition
- NLGJA – The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook (Spanish version)
- NLGJA – Tip Sheets on LGBT Coverage – Are You Gay?
- “Some Very Basic Tips for Making Higher Education More Accessible to Trans Students and Rethinking How We Talk About Gendered Bodies," (PDF) by Dean Spade, Radical Teacher, Winter 2011
Download the Guide
Download a PDF of the University of Iowa DEI Style Guide