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Inclusive Language

Language matters. Inclusive language is used to include people of all genders and sexual orientations in descriptions, communication and concepts.

Inclusive language is especially important when the gender of the person is unknown or when discussing a group of people of mixed genders. This includes the use of ‘they/their/them’ as a singular pronoun. It may feel awkward at first but using ‘they/their/them’ can help everyone feel included in communication. Using s/he, or alternating the use of she and he, reinforces the notion of gender being a binary construct, which is not inclusive of all gender identities.

The intention of inclusive language is to use language that reflects many possibilities. The intention is not to ‘ban’ the use of boy, girl, him, her, she or he. For example, when speaking about a child who identifies as a girl, using the terms she, her, and girl are perfectly acceptable. Using “Mother/Mom/Mama/Father/Dad/Daddy” to refer to yourself, if that is how you identify, is perfect! The goal is to expand who feels included when talking to or about groups of people.

Inclusive Strategies

For most people, using inclusive language is a shift and will take some time to get used to. Don’t worry about making mistakes, just make the effort. Your child will appreciate your intentions! Here are some strategies for using inclusive language in your conversations.

  • Using “they/their/them” as  singular, gender-free pronouns
    • e.g., “There is a new student in your class? What are they like?”
  • Removing gender labels from people, parts, processes, and partners
    • e.g., “Is there anyone special you are interested in at school?” Instead of “Is there a girl/boy you like at school?”
  • If it’s ever necessary to refer to assigned sex, using the terms “sex assigned at birth” instead of the terms “sex” or “biological sex
    • e.g., “When your cousin Alexa was born, she had a penis and so her sex assigned at birth was male. When she got older, she told her family she was a girl, and that is why we use “she” and “her” when we talk about her.”
  • When talking about anatomy, always explicitly acknowledge diversity
    • e.g., “You have a reproductive system with a uterus and ovaries. Other people have testicles and penises.  Everyone is different so some girls might have a system that is a bit different from yours.”

Depending on the cognitive or developmental level of your child, they may need extra support to understand inclusive language. Giving them examples of how these terms can be used in their own life can be helpful.

  • e.g., “Assigned male at birth means that when you were born, the doctor saw you had a penis and said ‘It’s a boy!’”
  • e.g., “People usually get their first period in puberty. You will get a period when you are older because you have a uterus and ovaries.”

Inclusive language goes beyond sexual health conversations. Inclusive language can be used in any interaction or communication. Here are some examples of words that help create inclusive communication.

Use: Instead of:
Parent Mother or Father
Partner Boyfriend or Girlfriend
Spouse Husband or Wife
Class, Students, Everybody Boys and Girls
Humankind Mankind
Artificial, Synthetic, Constructed Manmade
Ancestors Forefathers
Chair, Chairperson Chairman

Additional Resources

For more information, go to the Sexual and Gender Diversity section of the Additional Resources page.

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