The Best Way To Talk About Sexual Orientation


Despite the tremendous advances of the LGBTQ community in recent years – from judicial wins to widening social acceptance – there is still some ambiguity among members of today’s workforce about addressing homosexuality in public.

In order to lay the foundation for open and non-judgmental dialogues of sexual orientation in your company’s diversity and inclusion program, it is beneficial to make sure that all employees understand some of the most acceptable terms for discussing the topic. One of the most confusing acronyms in wide use today is LGBTQ (you may also see it followed by the letter “I” in some instances).

L stands for Lesbians – women whose primary emotional, romantic or sexual attractions are to other women. 

G stands for Gay men – those whose primary emotional, romantic or sexual attractions are to other men. 

B stands for Bisexuals – men or women whose primary emotional, romantic or sexual attractions are to both men and women. 

T stands for Transgendered – a broad term that includes cross-dressers, transsexuals and people who live substantial portions of their lives as other than their birth gender.

Q stands for Questioning – someone who is questioning their sexual and/or gender orientation. Sometimes, the Q stands for “queer,” a term reclaimed by some LGBTs for political reasons. 

I stands for Intersex – those born with mixed biology.

In conversations in the workplace, there are more generally acceptable terms to describe being LGBTQ. For example, it is best to use the term “sexual orientation,” rather than “sexual preference.” When referring to an LGBTQ individual’s personal relationships, use the terms “life partner,” “spouse,” “boyfriend/girlfriend,” or “husband/wife” rather than describing the person as the “roommate” or “friend.” This legitimizes their relationship and does not diminish it. It also signals your acceptance of it. And finally, do not patronize LGBTQ individuals by saying they have an “alternative lifestyle.” Being LGBTQ is something that a person is born with, not a style they have adopted.

By adopting the right vocabulary around sexual orientation diversity in the workplace, you and your colleagues can create and sustain an inclusive environment in which LGBTQ employees feel safe, comfortable and included.

Cheryl Williams