Inclusive language conveys gender equality and is gender neutral. Respect peoples’ preferences around gender and sexual identity with pronoun choice, job titles and personal titles.
Use gender-neutral language
Use terms that recognise gender equality. Avoid terms that discriminate on the basis of a person’s gender or sexual identity.
Our use of language reflects changes in society. There is wide agreement about using language to support equality between all genders.
It is unlawful to discriminate against a person under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. This discrimination relates to their:
- marital or relationship status
- actual or potential pregnancy
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- intersex status.
It is also unlawful to discriminate against a person because they are breastfeeding.
Learn the user’s preferred pronoun. If it’s not clear and you can’t ask them, choose gender-neutral pronouns.
The singular ‘they’ is gender-neutral. It avoids specifying a person’s gender.
You can use ‘they’ or ‘them’ when you would otherwise use a singular personal pronoun such as:
You can also use ‘themselves’ or ‘themself’ instead of ‘himself’ or ‘herself’. ‘Themself’ is an extension of using ‘they’ for a single person.
The use of gender-neutral pronouns to refer to a person of unknown gender has a long history. Usage now covers people who either:
- don’t wish to identify as a particular gender
- identify as non-binary or gender-fluid.
There are many ways to avoid using gender-specific pronouns.
You must provide copies of the application to
your referees. [Use the second-person pronouns (‘you’ and ‘your’) with direct tone and active voice.]
Candidates must provide copies of the application to
their referees. [Use a plural pronoun. The pronoun ‘their’ relates to a plural subject ‘candidates’.]
Every candidate must provide copies of the application to referees. [Leave the pronoun out altogether.]
Avoid gender-specific job titles
Avoid using job titles that end in ‘-man’ or ‘-woman’.
Avoid using the traditional terms for jobs that end in ‘-man’.
minister of religion
You should also avoid job terms that specify women.
Gender is not relevant to a person’s profession or title in general. Use gender-specific adjectives only when gender is relevant. For example, an economic analysis might discuss ‘female-dominated’ or ‘male-dominated’ industries.
Titles ‘Ms’ and ‘Mx’
‘Ms’ is now widely used instead of ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. It does not disclose marital status.
‘Mx’ refers to non-binary people and those who do not wish to be referred to by their gender. Use ‘Mx’ when a person indicates this is what they prefer, but not otherwise.
Forms and surveys can ask for people to specify gender. Don’t ask for a title or gender identity unless the form is designed to collect this information. For example, a form can ask for a person’s given and family name. It does not need to ask for their preferred title.
Check for changes in language use
Take care in areas where language is changing. Follow the rule that people have the right to identify their sexual orientation and gender identity as they choose.
The discussion is still evolving about words for other aspects of gender and sexual diversity.
Gender and sexual diversity terms
It can help to know the meanings of words people use about gender and sexual diversity. This includes sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.
- ‘Gender’ is about social and cultural differences and identity. ‘Gender’ and ‘sex’ both mean ‘the state of being male or female’ but are often used in different ways.
- ‘Gender expression’ is the way a person expresses their gender.
- ‘Gender identity’ is about who a person feels themself to be. It refers to the way a person identifies or expresses their masculine or feminine traits.
- ‘Gender-queer’ and ‘non-binary’ refer to people who don’t identify as either male or female. They may identify as both or neither. ‘Gender-fluid’ refers to people who do not identify with a fixed gender.
- ‘Intersex’ refers to people with innate genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics that do not conform to medical norms for female or male bodies.
- ‘Sex’ refers to the legal status that was initially determined by sex characteristics observed at birth.
- ‘Sex characteristics’ are a person’s physical sex features, such as their chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.
- ‘Sexual orientation’ is a person’s romantic or sexual attraction to another person, such as heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
- ‘Sexuality’ includes biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy and reproduction.
- ‘Transgender’ means people whose gender identity is different from that given to them at birth.
These are not the only ways to use these words. The definitions highlight some of the main points and distinctions. For more advice on these terms, go to:
- the Human Rights Commission
- the Australian Institute of Family Studies
- Intersex Human Rights Australia.
LGBTI and LGBTIQ+ communities
The term LGBT arose in the 1990s to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The term has since expanded to LGBTI, to include intersex people. LGBTI is now widely accepted and used.
Recently, the term has expanded again to LGBTIQ, LGBTIQ+ or LGBTIQA+. The ‘Q’ refers to the queer community or to people questioning their gender identity. The ‘A’ refers to asexual people. The newer terms are used less frequently. The use of ‘+’ represents other sexual identities.
Australian Government agencies use both LGBTI and LGBTIQ+.
‘SOGIESC’ is a term writers use when discussing law and policy. It refers to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics’. This term replaces the earlier term ‘SOGII’. It referred to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex’ issues.
The digital edition contains new guidance on inclusive language around gender and sexual diversity. It adds advice on the distinctions between gender, sex and sexuality, on LGBTIQ+ communities and on the use of the title ‘Mx’.
The sixth edition focused on inclusive treatment of the sexes. It gave options for avoiding gender-specific pronouns, and noted the singular ‘they’ had acquired a ‘special value’ in the context of inclusive language.
The digital edition goes further: it suggests using the singular ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun when avoiding gender-specific pronouns. This is consistent with advice that was in the Content Guide.
The Content Guide had advice on avoiding gendered pronouns, on transgender and intersex issues and on gender and sexuality.
About this page
Attorney-General’s Department (2015) Australian Government guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender, AGD website, accessed 25 May 2020.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018) ‘Sex and gender diversity on the 2016 Census’, Census of population and housing: reflecting Australia – stories from the Census, 2016, catalogue number 2071.0, accessed 22 May 2020.
Australian Human Rights Commission (2015) Sex discrimination, AHRC website, accessed 25 May 2020.
Australian Human Rights Commission (2019) About sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status discrimination, AHRC website, accessed 25 May 2020.
Child Family Community Australia, LGBTIQ+ communities: glossary of common terms, CFCA resource sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies website, accessed 25 May 2020.
Australian Press Council (2019) Advisory guideline: reporting on persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, APC, accessed 25 May 2020.
Australian Public Service Commission (2018) Lexicon of gender, APSC website, accessed 25 May 2020.
ReachOut (2019) Understanding what it means to be intersex, ReachOut.com, accessed 25 May 2020.
This page was updated Sunday 20 September 2020.