Inclusive Language Guidance
“Examining and extending our language gives us a chance to broaden our definition of the word we.”
—Rev. Barbara Pescan
Being a welcoming and inclusive community means consciously working to find ways to name, honor, and value experiences and identities that are usually minimized or devalued. It means uncovering our unconscious assumptions about what’s “normal” and who is present in our community, and opening ourselves to the possibility of greater diversity. In order for us each to feel welcome and included in faith communities, we need to see ourselves reflected and present in some way.
Using inclusive language does not just mean using affirming and nondiscrimination statements, although that is certainly a good first step. Inclusive language is mindful of the ways that our language often unconsciously makes assumptions about people and unintentionally reinforces dominant norms around gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ability/disability, age, and other identities and experiences. Here are a few things to be mindful around (in terms of checking the assumptions that language often carries):
- Recognizing diverse family formation
For example, not all families have a mom and a dad: consider “parent or caregiver” instead of “mom and dad,” get creative with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, etc.
- Using language that reflects what people call themselves
For example, taking the time to find out what labels or words a person or group uses for their identities and experiences rather than making assumptions, and always respecting the language a person uses to self-identify.
- Using “person-centered” language as a general rule
For example, when talking about groups you aren’t a member of, not using an identity as a stand-in for a person or a group: “people with disabilities” instead of “the disabled”; “transgender people” instead of “transgenders” or “the transgendered”; etc., remembering that any aspect of a person is just that: an aspect of a person.
- Choosing not to use language that assumes all people are heterosexual
For example, “partner” instead of husband/wife/spouse.
- Understanding and respecting the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity
For example, not saying “LGBT” if you are only talking about sexual orientation; not using “straight” as the opposite of “LGBT” (transgender people can be any sexual orientation, including straight); etc.
- Being intentional about representing diversity in stories and curricula
For example, representing a variety of family structures, races/ethnicities, gender identities and expressions, and sexual orientations in stories shared during services and in religious education for all ages.
- Using non-gendered words for the divine
- Using words that encompass all genders rather than only two
For example, “people of all genders” instead of “women and men”; “children” instead of “boys and girls”; “siblings” or “kindred” instead of “brothers and sisters.”
- Using language that does not assume a certain level of education
For example, not assuming that all people have graduated from high school and/or gone to college (or will go to college after high school); being mindful of the reading level of language used in services; etc.
- Using language that does not assume a certain level of financial means or certain sort of vocation
For example, not assuming that everyone present is employed, has a stable living situation, can afford to meet their basic needs, works a first shift job, etc.
- Avoiding negative or demeaning language for people with disabilities
For example, “people living with HIV/AIDS” rather than “AIDS victims”; “people who use wheelchairs” rather than “wheelchair-bound” or “someone confined to a wheelchair.”
Do you have questions, comments, or more ideas for inclusive language to add to the guidance above? Contact lgbtq @ uua.org!
If you like this page, you might also be interested in Multicultural Welcome: A Resource for Greeters and Coffee Hour Caution: Advice for Older Adults Greeting Young Adults. You can also find out more about nurturing inclusivity in our congregations.
For more information contact lgbtq @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
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