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Northwest Missouri State University

Inclusive Language

Gender and Sexual Orientation | Racial and Ethnic Identity | Disabilities

Gender and Sexual Orientation

The term sexual orientation is preferred to sexual preference.

  • Lesbian and gay male are preferred to the word homosexual. The terms gay male and lesbian refer primarily to identities and to the modern culture and communities that have developed among people who share those identities. They should be distinguished from sexual behavior. Some men and women have sex with others of their own gender but do not consider themselves to be gay or lesbian. In contrast, the terms heterosexual and bisexual currently are used to describe both identity and behavior.

  • Same-gender sexual behavior, male-male sexual behavior, and female-female sexual behavior are appropriate terms for specific instances of same-gender sexual behavior that people engage in regardless of their sexual orientation (e.g., a married heterosexual man who once had a same-gender sexual encounter).

  • Bisexual women and men, bisexual persons, or bisexual as an adjective refer to people who relate sexually and affectionately to women and men.

  • Heterosexual as an adjective is acceptable for people who have male-female affectional and sexual relationships and who do not engage in sexual relationships with people of the same gender.

Racial and Ethnic Identity

African American – Black

North American people of African ancestry (some prefer Black and others prefer African American).

Note: Negro and Afro-American have become dated – “inappropriate” (per APA 6th). Also, “language that essentializes or reifies race is STONGLY DISCOURAGED as it portrays human groups monolithically” (APA, p. 75). Ex. Black race and White race are essentialist.


Often used as a proxy for non-White racial and ethnic groups. 

Note: This usage may be viewed pejoratively because minority is usually equated with being less than, oppressed, and deficient in comparison with the majority (i.e., Whites). Use a modifier, such as ethnic or racial when using the word minority. When possible, use the actual name of the group or groups to which you are referring (APA, p. 75).

Black and White

Racial and ethnic groups are designated by proper nouns and are capitalized. Therefore, use Black and White instead of black and white. THE USE OF COLORS TO REFER  TO OTHER HUMAN GROUPS CURRENTLY IS CONSIDERED PEJORATIVE AND  SHOULD NOT BE USED (per APA 6th).

Hispanic, Latino, Chicano

Depending on where a person is from, individuals may prefer to be called Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, or some other designation; Hispanic is not necessarily an all-encompassing term.  In general, naming a nation or region of origin is helpful; e.g., Cuban, Salvadoran, or Guatemalan is more specific than Central American or Hispanic (APA, p. 75).

Indigenous Peoples

American Indian, Native American, and Native North American are all accepted for referring to indigenous peoples of North America.  When referring to groups including and Samoans, the broader designation Native Americans may be used.

Asian or Asian American

The term Asian or Asian American is preferred to the older term Oriental.

It is generally useful to specify the name of the Asian subgroup: Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Pakistani, and so on.  People of Middle Eastern descent may also be identified by nation of origin: Iraqi, Lebanese, and so forth (APA, p. 76).


Avoid language that objectifies a person by his or her condition (e.g., autistic, neurotic), that uses pictorial metaphors (e.g., wheelchair-bound or confined to a wheelchair), that uses excessive and negative labels (e.g., AIDS victim, brain-damaged), or that can be regarded as a slur (e.g, cripple, invalid.) Use people-first language to describe groups of people with disabilities.  For instance, say people with intellectual disabilities in contrast to the retarded (University of Kansas, Research and Training Center on Independent Living, 2008).