LGBT+ writing: a glossary

The following is a brief guide to common terms used in writing about LGBT+ communities and subjects. We are providing them here as advice to assist members of the University to address our diverse community of students, staff and other colleagues as inclusively as possible.


Describes a person who experiences little or no sexual attraction.

Bisexual (or bi)

Describes someone with a romantic or sexual attraction towards people of two or more genders. Note that there is no hyphen in the word ’bisexual’.


Describes a person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same gender (eg gay man, gay people).


Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity. Gender is a person's internal, deeply held sense of this aspect of their identity, as opposed to the more externally determined ‘sex’ (see below).


This might be considered a more medical term used to describe a gay person. The use of the term has been adopted by anti-LGBT+ extremists and so has become offensive to many.


A term describing people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosome pattern that can't be classified as typically male or female.


A woman whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay or as gay women.


This is an acronym for ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and others’. The ‘+’ represents people who identify as non-binary, questioning, queer, intersex, asexual, and an increasingly large number of other identities.

At Bristol, LGBT+ is preferred over many other valid and similar constructions (eg LGBTQ, LGBTQQIA) for simplicity, consistency and inclusiveness.

Mother or father

In many circumstances, it is best to use either ’parent(s)’ or ‘parent or guardian‘ instead of ‘mother and father‘. This allows for the diverse nature of families and parenting, including two parents of the same sex. Use of ‘parent or guardian’ also includes families formed through fostering, adoption and surrogacy.


Pronounced ‘mix’, this is a title used before a person's surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.


Non-binary people feel their gender identity cannot be defined within the margins of gender binary. Instead, they understand their gender in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or woman.


Describes someone with a romantic or sexual attraction towards people of all genders.


Different people use different pronouns (he/him/his, she/her, they/them/their, etc) to refer to themselves. Be aware that, if you don't know how they identify, someone may use a different set of pronouns to those you assume. 

Some people include 'My preferred pronouns are…' within their email signatures to help people communicating with them. When writing about a known individual, always use the pronoun that the person prefers. If in doubt, ask politely. 

When referring to groups or people, use gender-neutral language, specifically the singular 'they' or 'their', as this is more inclusive.

He or she, his or her, him or her: When writing general statements rather than person-specific ones, it's best to avoid these 'or' constructions if possible. They're a little awkward, especially when repeated, and they exclude some people who identify as non-binary. 

For example: 'A researcher should be completely objective in his or her findings', could be better written as 'A researcher should be completely objective in their findings'. 


This is used by some people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual. Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel don't apply to them. Once considered a pejorative term, ‘queer’ has been reclaimed by some LGBT+ people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT+ community.


Sex is the classification of male or female that is usually given at birth based on the appearance of their external anatomy.

Sexual orientation

The scientifically accurate term for an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or other genders.

Avoid the term ‘sexual preference‘, which many find offensive as it is used to suggest that being LGBT+ is voluntary.

Transgender (or trans)

Describes people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth.

Note that trans is not a third gender (it is not a third alternative to male or female). Someone who is trans may be male, female or non-binary. They may also be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual.

For a more detailed glossary, please go to the Stonewall webpages.

More information

You can find more information about LGBT+ policies and resources at Bristol on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion web pages.

If you have any questions, please email

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