Inclusive writing: Sexual orientation


A person’s orientation refers to their sexual and romantic attraction, or lack of attraction, to other people.

General guidance

  • Always avoid and seek to challenge offensive terminology, discrimination and stereotypes.
  • It is usually not relevant to refer to people’s sexual orientation when writing about them.
    • Only refer to people’s sexual orientation if it is relevant to the context in which you are writing – for example, if you are writing about LGBT+ issues and someone has specified that they would like to share this aspect of their identity.
  • Do not identify someone as a member of the LGBT+ community without their consent.
    • People should not feel obligated to disclose, talk about or explain their sexual orientation.
    • Disclosing a person’s sexual orientation without their express and explicit permission (sometimes called ‘outing’ someone) can be a legal offence.
  • Do not assume a person’s sexual orientation based on their appearance, behaviour, or current or past partners.
  • Avoid assuming heterosexuality as the norm.

Specific terminology

  • Use ‘sexual orientation’ rather than ‘sexual preference’. The word ‘preference’ can imply that a person's sexual orientation is a choice.
    • Generally, ‘sexual orientation’ is also preferred to ‘sexuality’.
  • Use terms relating to sexual orientation as adjectives, rather than nouns.
    • For example, use ‘bisexual people’ rather than ‘bisexuals’.
  • Be conscious of in-group and out-group naming.
    • For example, ‘queer’ can be an acceptable in-group term, but can also be viewed by some as a slur. It should not be used to describe an individual unless this is how they identify and wish to be referred to. The term ‘queer communities’ can be acceptable if relevant.

Broad terminology

  • The University of Bristol generally uses the acronym ‘LGBT+’ to refer to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities. The ‘plus’ is inclusive of other groups.
    • We recognise that individuals and groups may use alternative acronyms, and these can be used if preferred.
  • Do not refer to an individual as ‘an LGBT+ person’. ‘Member of the LGBT+ community’ can be used instead.
  • Use ‘LGBT+’ to refer to a broad community, but be specific if you are writing about a particular group, such as bisexual women or gay men.

Further resources

  • Find more information about the University’s work with staff on LGBT+ inclusion.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity are separate aspects of a person’s identity. For language relating to gender identity, refer to the sex and gender guidance
  • For a full list of definitions relating to sexual orientation, visit Stonewall’s list of LGBTQ+ terms.
  • To find further information about behaviour that is not tolerated at the University, and report unacceptable behaviour, visit our pages for students or staff.
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