GLAAD Media Reference Guide - AP & New York Times Style

In recent years, the nation's leading media style books have published guidelines for language and terminology use when reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives, issues and stories.

The Associated Press and The New York Times both restrict usage of the term "homosexual" - a word whose clinical history and pejorative connotations are routinely exploited by anti-gay extremists to suggest that lesbians and gay men are somehow diseased or psychologically and emotionally disordered. Editors at the AP and New York Times also have instituted rules against the use of inaccurate terminology such as "sexual preference" and "gay lifestyle."

Following are the LGBT-related editorial guidelines from The Associated Press and The New York Times as they appear in their respective style guides.

Associated Press (2013)

gay Used to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Preferred over homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity. Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references to "sexual preference" or to a gay or alternative "lifestyle."

lesbian See gay.

husband, wife Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage.

transgender Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly. See transsexual.

transsexual A person who changes gender by undergoing surgical procedures. See transgender.

New York Times (2013)

bisexual. Do not use the slang shorthand bi.

homosexuality. See bisexual; gay; lesbian; sexual orientation.

gay (adj.) is preferred to homosexual in most references. Generally confine homosexual in specific references to sexual activity or clinical orientation. Gay may refer to homosexual men or more generally to homosexual men and women. In specific references to women, lesbian is preferred. When the distinction is useful, write gay men and lesbians. Do not use gay as a singular noun. As a noun, the plural gays is acceptable, but avoid the singular gay.  Also see sexual orientation.

gay rights. Advocates for gay issues are concerned that the term may invite resentment by implying "special rights" that are denied other citizens; the advocates prefer phrases like equal rights or civil rights for gay people. But the shorter phrase is in wide use and often indispensable for confined headlines. When it occurs, define the issues precisely.

homosexuality. See bisexual; gay; lesbian; sexual orientation.

lesbian (adj. and n.). Lowercase except in the names of organizations. Lesbian women is redundant. See sexual orientation.

L.G.B.T. Except in quotations and organization names, seek alternatives to this cumbersome abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. (Take care, however, not to inadvertently exclude relevant information; for example, if antidiscrimination legislation specifically applies to bisexual and transgender people, avoid suggesting that it only affects gay people.) If the abbreviation is necessary as a first reference, deftly explain it at some point. Note that some groups use G.L.B.T. instead.  Do not use other, less familiar variations that include additional categories.

same-sex marriage, gay marriage. Both terms are acceptable, though the former is sometimes preferred to make clear that the expression covers both gay men and lesbians. Normally use wife or husband for people who are legally married. (Spouse is also accurate for either partner in any legal marriage, but do not use it simply to avoid husband and wife for same-sex couples.)

sex changes. See transgender.

sexual orientation. Never sexual preference, which carries the disputed implication that sexuality is a matter of choice. Cite a person's sexual orientation only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. Also see bisexual; gay; lesbian; straight.

sexual preference. Use sexual orientation instead.

straight, meaning heterosexual, is classed as slang by some dictionaries and standard by others. Avoid any use that conveys an in-group flavor. But use the term freely (adj. only) in phrases drawing a contrast with gay: The film attracted gay and straight audiences alike.

transgender (adj.) is an overall term for people whose current identity differs from their sex at birth, whether or not they have changed their biological characteristics. Cite a person's transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.

Transgender is generally preferable to the older transsexual. Do not use the offensive slang tranny.

transvestite is outdated and often viewed as offensive. Use cross-dresser instead to describe someone of either sex who sometimes dresses in clothing associated with the opposite sex. Note that cross-dressing does not necessarily indicate that someone is gay or transgender.

Return to GLAAD Media Reference Guide Home