Language Matters: Glossary of Terms

Having a common language for talking about and across difference is important for mutual understanding and partnership. The language of diversity is evolving and requires awareness, understanding and skill. This glossary, though not exhaustive, is a tool to give you the words and meanings to help make conversations easier, respectful and empowering.

Advocate: Someone who speaks up for themselves, members of their identity group(s) or other individual or groups who may be experiencing or subject to harm, inequities, disadvantages, or disenfranchisement. They strive to shape public policy to address societal harm or disadvantage affecting group members. 

Agender: A person with no (or very little) connection to gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender.

Asexual: A person who experiences little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior. They may or may not experience emotional, physical, or romantic attraction. Asexuality differs from celibacy in that it is a sexual orientation, not a choice. People who are asexual may call themselves ace.

Ally: someone who speaks on behalf of others in need or distress until they are empowered to speak for themselves, or who elevates the voices of those who are speaking for themselves.

Belonging: being in a state of inclusion when individuals feel more confident in their abilities and have the psychological safety to represent themselves authentically without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status or career.

Bias: Systematic patterns where our brains stray from rationality in judgment which can result in attitudes for or against a person, group or concept especially in a way considered to be unfair.

Bias incident: a discriminatory or hurtful act that appears to be motivated or is perceived by the victim to be motivated wholly or in part by race, ethnicity, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. A bias incident may or may not be illegal or violative of any criminal law.

Biracial: a person who identifies as coming from two races; a person whose biological parents are of two different races.

Bigender/Dual Gender: a person who possesses and expresses a distinctly masculine persona and a distinctly feminine persona and is comfortable in and enjoys presenting in both gender roles.

Bisexual/BI: a person who is attracted to people of their own gender as well as another gender.

Black: A broad term for all people with ethnic origins in the African continent. Less commonly this term is used to refer to all people around the world who are not of white European descent. Note that we encourage capitalizing Black (when you’re talking about race) — this is consistent with usage for other ethnic groups like Asian, Arab, Latinx. In the US, the term Black or Black American is typically preferred over African-American for two reasons: it better describes folks who are many generations removed from African ancestors and don’t identify with Africa, and the term African-American has been criticized by some for being an overly politically correct alternative or even a euphemism for Black.

Color Blind: the belief in treating everyone “equally” by treating everyone the same; based on the presumption that differences are, by definition, bad or problematic and therefore best ignored (i.e., “I don’t see race, gender, etc.”).

Cisgender: a description for a person whose gender identity, gender expression, and sex assigned at birth align (e.g., man, masculine and male).

Dialogue: “communication that creates and recreates multiple understandings” (Wink, 1997); it is bidirectional, not zero‐sum, and may or may not end in agreement. Dialogue can be emotional and uncomfortable, but is safe, respectful, and has greater understanding as its goal.

Disability: A physical or mental condition that limits movements, senses, activities or emotions

Discrimination: Different from prejudice, discrimination is the behavior or action (usually negative) against a certain individual or group based on their shared characteristics.

Disparate Impact: The effect of rules or policies that appear to be "neutral" on their face, but advantage or disadvantage certain groups. Example: An exam or test-taking rule that does not allow candidates to use the toilet during a 3-hour exam – this disadvantages middle-aged test takers who tend to need to use the bathroom more frequently.

Diversity: representation of the full range of visible and invisible identities, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, mental and physical abilities and characteristics, religion, language, among other identities.

Doing Gender: the notion that gender emerges not as an individual attribute but as something that is accomplished in interaction with others.

Dominant Culture: the cultural values, beliefs, and practices that are assumed to be the norm and are most influential within a given society. 

Equality: Treating everyone the same way while assuming that everyone starts out on equal footing with equal opportunities.

Equity: Working toward fair outcomes for people or groups by treating them in ways that address their unique identities, needs and/or barriers.

Ethnic groups: The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a shared cultural tradition.

Ethnicity: The culture of people in a given geographic region, including their language, heritage, religion, and customs.

Ethnocentrism: The tendency to believe that your own ethnic group is centrally important and measure all others using the standards and customs of your own.

Feminisim: Beliefs in and desire for equality between the sexes. As Merriam-Webster noted last month: "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities." It encompasses social, political and economic equality. Of course, a lot of people tweak the definition to make it their own. Feminist activist bell hooks calls it "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression." (USA Today Article)  

First Nations People: Individuals who identify as those who were the first people to live on the Western Hemisphere continent; people also identified as Native Americans.

Gay: Used in some cultural settings to represent men who are attracted to men in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Not all men who engage in same-gender sexual behavior identify as gay, and as such this label should be used with caution.

Gender: social, cultural, and psychological traits linked to males and females that define them as masculine or feminine.

Genderfluid: A person who does not identify with the fixed gender binary and move within genders and gender stereotypes.

Genderqueer: A person who does not identify or express their gender within the gender binary. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as neither men nor women, may see themselves as outside of or in between the gender binary, or may simply feel restricted by gender labels.

Gender Identity: refers to a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being a man or woman, or something other or in between, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth; because gender identity is internal and personally defined, it is not visible to others.

Heterosexual: A person attracted to members of another sex or gender.

Homosexual: A person who is attracted to members of their own sex or gender.

Identities: Our identities are who we are as individuals, including our personal characteristics, history, personality, name, and other characteristics that make us unique and different from other individuals.

Inclusion: acts or practices that provide an equitable and fair distribution of resources and opportunities. Such acts and practices ensure that all members/affiliates of an organization can bring their authentic selves to work or activities, if they choose to, fully leveraging their distinct traits and experiencing ownership and empowerment.

Intersectionality: The intertwining of social identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, which can result in unique experiences, opportunities, and barriers.

Intersex: An umbrella term that describes people born with any of 30 different variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals.

Latinx: A gender-neutral term for Latin Americans, but it has been especially embraced by members of Latin LGBTQ communities as a word to identify themselves as people of Latin descent possessing a gender identity outside the male/female binary.

Lesbian: Usually refers to a woman who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation toward women. Some nonbinary people also identify with this term.

LGBTQIA+: an inclusive term for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. Some people also use the Q to stand for "questioning," meaning asexual/aromatic/agender.

LGBTQI ALLY: Someone who confronts heterosexism, anti- LGBTQIA biases, heterosexual and cisgender privilege in themselves and others; believes that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are social justice issues.

MĀHŪ: (‘in the middle’) in Kanaka Maoli& (Hawaiian) and Maohi (Tahitian) cultures are third gender persons with traditional spiritual and social roles within the culture. Here are two videos to help you learn more about the Māhū culture.

Minoritized: when underrepresented groups are made to feel "less than."

Misogynoir: Misogyny directed toward black women. 

Misogyny: Hatred of women. 

Misandry: Hatred of men. 

Multiracial: a person who identifies as coming from two or more races; a person whose biological parents are of two or more different races.

Multiethnic: a person who identifies as coming from two or more ethnicities; a person whose biological parents are of two or more ethnicities.

MUXE: Derived from the Spanish word for woman (Mujer), muxes generally represent Mexican people who are assigned male at birth and identify as different genders. The iterations among the muxe community and their self-identifications vary – some identify as male but are female-expressing, while others identify as female and are more closely associated with Western culture’s understanding of transgender. Others defy gender entirely. But, in Mexican culture, the term “third gender” is often tacked to the muxe community. This video and article can help you learn more about muxe culture and identity. 

Non-Binary/ENBY: A category for a fluid constellation of gender identities beyond the woman/man gender binary.

Neurodiversity: The concept that there is great diversity in how people’s brains are wired and work, and that neurological differences should be valued in the same way we value any other human variation.

Pansexual: A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions.

Patriarchy: A hierarchical-structured society in which men hold more power.

People of Color: Used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white; the term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism.

Privilege: A right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage, or favor typically based on membership in a dominant social group. 

Oppression: An undeserved, whether intentional or unintentional, disadvantage typically based on non-membership in a dominant social group.

Queer: A multi-faceted word that is used in different ways and means different things to different people. 1) Attraction to people of many genders. 2) Don’t conform to cultural norms around gender and/or sexuality. 3) A general term referring to all non-heterosexual people. Some within the community, however, may feel the word has been hatefully used against them for too long and are reluctant to embrace it.

Questioning: An individual who is unsure of and/or exploring their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Pansexual: A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions.

Privilege: a right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage, or favor.

Questioning: refers to an individual who is uncertain of her/his sexual orientation, gender, or identity.

Race: refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics that result from genetic ancestry. Sociologists use the concept of race to describe how people think of and treat groups of people, as people very commonly classify each other according to race (e.g., as African-American or as Asian). Most sociologists believe that race is not “real” in the sense that there are no unique or exclusive genetic or physical characteristics that truly distinguish one group of people from another; instead, different groups share overlapping characteristics.

Religion: a system of beliefs, usually spiritual in nature, and often in terms of a formal, organized denomination.

Safe Space: refers to an environment in which everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and participating fully without fear of attack, ridicule, or denial of experience.

Sex: separate from gender, this term refers to the cluster of biological, chromosomal, and anatomical features associated with maleness and femaleness in the human body. Sexual dimorphism is often thought to be a concrete reality, whereas, in reality, the existence of Intersex individuals points to a multiplicity of sexes in the human population. Sex is often used synonymously with gender in this culture. Although the two terms are related, they should be defined separately to differentiate the biological (“sex”) from the sociocultural (“gender”).

Sexism: The belief in the superiority of one sex over another. The most common is the idea that women are inferior.

Sexual Orientation: refers to the gender(s) that a person is emotionally, physically, romantically, and erotically attracted to. Examples of sexual orientation include homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual and asexual. Trans and gender-variant people may identify with any sexual orientation, and their sexual orientation may or may not change before, during, or after gender transition.

Social Identity: involves the ways in which one characterizes oneself, the affinities one has with other people, the ways one has learned to behave in stereotyped social settings, the things one values in oneself and in the world, and the norms that one recognizes or accepts governing everyday behavior.

Social Justice: is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable, and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.

Stud: A term originating within communities of color to describe a masculine identifying person who was assigned female at birth. Here is a study looking at the sexuality and gender construction of people who use ‘stud’ to describe their identity.

TERF: The acronym for "trans exclusionary radical feminist," referring to feminists who are transphobic.

Title IX: A part of US Federal Civil Rights Law (1972), protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Some key issue areas in which recipients have Title IX obligations are recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment. Also, a recipient may not retaliate against any person for opposing an unlawful educational practice or policy or made charges, testified or participated in any complaint action under Title IX. 

Tokenism: Making symbolic and minimal gestures in offering opportunities to underrepresented groups.

Tolerance: acceptance and open‐mindedness to different practices, attitudes, and cultures; does not necessarily connote agreement with the differences.

Transmisogyny: A blend of transphobia and misogyny, which manifests as discrimination against "trans women and trans and gender non-conforming people on the feminine end of the gender spectrum." 

Transphobia: Prejudice toward trans people. 

Transgender: A person whose sense of personal identity or gender does not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth or does not conform to gender stereotypes. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

Transsexual: refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex he/she was born and the sex he/she identifies as. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her sex identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals can have or desire surgery.

Unconscious Bias (Implicit Bias): social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Undocumented: A foreign-born person living in the United States without legal citizenship status.

Undocumented Student: School-aged immigrants who entered the United States without inspection/overstayed their visas and are present in the United States with or without their parents. They face unique legal uncertainties and limitations within the United States educational system.

Veteran Status: Whether or not an individual has served in a nation's armed forces (or other uniformed services).

Victim-blaming: When the victim of a crime or harmful act is held fully or partially responsible for it. If you hear someone questioning what a victim could have done to prevent a crime, that's victim-blaming, and it makes it harder for people to come forward and report abuse.  

Whiteness: A broad social construction that embraces the white culture, history, ideology, racialization, expressions, and economic, experiences, epistemology, and emotions and behaviors and nonetheless reaps material, political, economic, and structural benefits for those socially deemed white.

White Fragility: Discomfort, and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.

White Privilege: White Privilege is the spillover effect of racial prejudice and White institutional power. It means, for example, that a White person in the United States has privilege, simply because one is White. It means that as a member of the dominant group a White person has greater access or availability to resources because of being White. It means that White ways of thinking and living are seen as the norm against which all people of color are compared. Life is structured around those norms for the benefit of White people. White privilege is the ability to grow up thinking that race doesn’t matter. It is not having to daily think about skin color and the questions, looks, and hurdles that need to be overcome because of one’s color. White Privilege may be less recognizable to some White people because of gender, age, sexual orientation, economic class or physical or mental ability, but it remains a reality because of one’s membership in the White dominant group.

White Supremacy: White supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and individuals of color by white individuals and nations of the European continent for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

Woke: Rooted in black activist culture, it means you’re educated and aware, especially about injustice. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA., has told young people to “stay woke.” If you think about it in the context of women’s rights, look at the #SayHerName campaign, which works to raise awareness for black women who are victims of police brutality. 

Worldview: The perspective through which individuals view the world; comprised of their history, experiences, culture, family history, and other influences.

Xenophobia: Hatred or fear of foreigners/strangers or of their politics or culture.