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Pride Month: Respecting Sexual Diversity

Helping to Foster a More Civil Discourse in Law & Society

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Each June, we celebrate Pride Month, and observe Pride Day on June 1, to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. It’s celebrated in the month of June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. The riots were sparked by an early-morning police raid at the Stonewall Inn, which was frequented by the LGBT community. These protests led to men and women across the sexual identity spectrum, and across the United States, demanding the right to be who they are without fear of harassment. This year’s LGBT Pride Month is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and a call to respect sexual and gender diversity, and reject discrimination.

In the field of personal injury law, we deal with people who are injured or have lost a loved one in a sudden, unexpected accident. In those situations, emotions run high and tempers are often short, and it’s especially important to use language and practices that are respectful and considerate.

A 2017 Pew Research Center study found that most Americans feel LGBT people should be accepted by society. While most people are well-intentioned in dealing with LGBT friends, neighbors, and colleagues, they’re sometimes unsure what’s considered acceptable. We offer the following information to help foster a more civil discourse:

Terminology

The understanding of human sexuality is evolving, and the accepted terminology for a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is fluid and changing. The terms below reflect current usage, based on existing understanding.

Sexual orientation describes the gender a person feels sexually and/or romantically attracted to.

Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male, female, both, or neither. This feeling is what primarily determines a person’s gender, regardless of their physical anatomy.

Gender expression is how a person expresses their gender through dress, grooming, behaviors, and other characteristics.

These elements of an individual’s personality exist on a spectrum vs. being binary – that is, not simply masculinity and femininity. A person can embody aspects of both, or not conform to either.

Sexual Orientation

Cisgender refers to individuals whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.

Lesbian: A woman who is primarily romantically and/or sexually attracted to other women.

Gay: A man whose primary romantic and/or sexual attraction is to other males, or anyone who is romantically/sexually attracted to the same gender as themselves.

Bisexual: A romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of both sexes. Many people who identify as bisexual are attracted to a spectrum of gender identities or expressions. Some prefer to identify as pansexual to specify their attraction to a spectrum vs. binary male vs. female.

Queer: This term is used to self-identify as rejecting conventional LGBT or gender categories, or as a political identity.

Questioning: This a process of exploration for someone who is unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction to others. An asexual person may or may not have romantic feelings towards others, but either way, has no desire for a sexual experience. Being asexual is different than being celibate, which is purposely abstaining from sexual activity one would otherwise enjoy.

Gender Identity and Expression

2-S, or two-spirit: An identity unique to First Nation or Native American culture, this describes a third gender: an individual whose spirits blend male and female. (Non-Native Americans should avoid using this term.)

Sex assigned at birth (SAAB) is the gender a person is designated at birth based on the appearance of their external genitalia.

Transgender: A term that describes people with a gender identity different than their sex assigned at birth. Not all transgender individuals want to undergo medical intervention such as taking hormones, having surgeries. They may still transition socially, through a change in appearance, a different pronoun to describe themselves, or other behaviors.

Intersex: A term used to describe sex characteristics that do not fit typical, gender binary notions of male or female. Some babies have physically visible intersex traits at birth. In others, these traits don’t manifest until puberty, or may be internal, vs. visibly apparent.

Agender: Literally “without gender.”

Third Gender: A concept in which persons are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither male nor female. Many historical and current societies recognize three or more genders.

Genderqueer: A self-identifying gender term that describes being somewhere on the spectrum between, or outside of, binary gender identities. They may or may not identify as transgender.

Gender-fluid: A self-identifying gender term that describes one’s own gender identity and expression as fluid vs. fixed.

Gender-nonconforming: A self-identifying term used by a person who does not accept society’s expectations of gender roles.

Non-binary: Describes gender identities that are neither male nor female, but fall within a spectrum.

They, Them, Ze, Hir, Xe, Xem are some pronouns individuals use when their gender identities do not fall within the binary distinctions of male or female.

Crossdresser: A person who dresses and grooms in the tradition of a different gender identity. Many crossdressers are cisgender and/or heterosexual. Crossdressing is often a form of expression, and not necessarily tied to sexual orientation or erotic activity.

Gender transition: The period when a person starts living as their gender identify, if it is different than their sex assigned at birth. This transition may or may not include medical or legal actions, but could be more of a social transition to live as one’s true self. This may include using a different name and different pronouns, changing one’s physical appearance, and other social differences.

Best Practices: Terms to Avoid

While there is no universal agreement on identity terminology, some terms are considered slurs. Here are some examples of terms to avoid.

“Homosexual,” while still sometimes used in literature and the media, is an outdated term. “Gay” or “lesbian” is preferable for someone who identifies as having exclusively same-sex attraction.

“Queer” should never be used as an epithet. Unless a person describes themselves as “queer,” or “genderqueer,” don’t describe others that way.

“Transgender” is an adjective, not a noun. Don’t refer to a person as “a transgender,” but “a transgender individual” – and only if it’s relevant. Otherwise, a transgender woman should simply be called “a woman.”

“Transsexual” is another outdated medical and psychological term. Some transgender people who have changed their bodies (or have a desire to do so) through medical intervention may still prefer this term. However, “transsexual” is not an umbrella term, as many transgender people do not identify this way.

“Hermaphrodite” is a very outdated term used to describe an intersex individual, or someone who had both male and female genitalia. This term is now considered both misleading and demeaning.

“MTF – Male to Female,” or “FTM – Female to Male”: These terms are not appropriate to describe a transgender individual. They suggest that a transgender person was a male who became a female, or vice-versa, instead of honoring their true gender.

“Sexual preference”: A person’s sexual orientation is a deeply-felt part of their identity, not a preference or a lifestyle.

The words faggot, fag, dyke, tranny, “he-she” and “it” are insulting and demeaning slurs. They should never be used to refer to any human being — even if people use those terms to refer to themselves. Marginalized people often do this to deprive those words of their power over them, but that doesn’t mean that others should see them as acceptable. Also, the terms drag queen/king should also be used to refer to individuals when they are performing in a drag show or in character as such.

In general, when someone tells you how they identify, and asks you to use certain terms and pronouns to describe them, you should respect the person’s right to self-determination and act accordingly. To do otherwise is disrespectful and unnecessarily insulting. When dealing with people in a legal situation, socially, or in business, it’s important to treat every individual with respect, human decency, and common courtesy.


If you have been injured in an accident and need legal representation, TorkLaw will treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve. We will stand up for your right to full compensation for your injuries and damages, and ensure that you are treated fairly. Call us today at 888.845.9696.

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