Special thanks to the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, GLAAD, PEAK, ADA Lead On Productions, Gold House, illumiNative, and Storyline Partners for sourcing the definitions below.
Ableism: Practices and beliefs that assign inferior value to those with developmental, emotional, physical/sensory, or psychiatric disabilities. Ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people need to be “fixed.” Examples of ableism include institutional discrimination (employment, housing); ableist language; inaccessible streets, buildings, and transportation; lack of or harmful media portrayals; bullying, isolation, and pity.
Abstinence: The decision to and/or practice of not partaking in sexual activity, typically for a limited period of time (e.g., until marriage). Unlike asexuality, which is a sexual orientation that describes a lack of sexual attraction, abstinence is a behavior.
Affirmative action: A set of policies and practices within a government or organization seeking to include particular groups based on their gender, race, religion, or nationality in areas in which they are excluded in the past such as education and employment.
For myths and facts on affirmative action, see the ACLU Racial Justice Program, ACLU Human Rights Program, and the African American Policy Forum’s factsheet.
Affirmative consent: A voluntary, affirmative, and conscious mutual agreement among all participants through words or nonverbal actions that create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity (i.e., “yes means yes”). Consent may be withdrawn at any time. Consent cannot be given when it’s the result of coercion, intimidation, force, threat of harm, or when a person is incapacitated (e.g., by drugs or alcohol, not awake or fully awake).
African diaspora: The dispersal of millions of people of African origin all over the world, especially in Europe and the Americas. The largest populations descended from those forcibly transported from Africa are in Brazil, which, though not precisely listed in census returns, may be as high as 90 million – about half of Brazil’s entire population in 2010. Other similarly descended populations include approximately 40 million in the Caribbean, 40 million in the U.S., and many millions more in other countries. Roughly 4 million more enslaved Africans were taken to Brazil than to any other country. Slavery lasted longer in Brazil than in other countries, not being finally abolished until 1888. - Understanding Slavery Initiative
Afro Latine: Black Latine people who refer to themselves in varied, nuanced ways. For instance, those from Latin America and the diaspora self-identify using terms including, but not limited to, Black Latine (“negro(a)/e” in Spanish), Afrodescendant (“afrodescendiente” in Spanish), and Afro Latine. For more information on how to better write about Afro Latine people, check out Storyline Partner’s reader here.
Ageism: The stereotyping, prejudice, and/or discrimination against people based on their age (across all ages). Ageism affects all aspects of our society, from the workplace (e.g., being fired from a job because of age) to healthcare (e.g., not being taken seriously by doctors because of age).
Agender: A person who does not experience or express any gender (while most non-binary identities typically do have a gender, just one that isn’t binary). For more.
Alaska Native: a general term used to represent the Indigenous peoples of the land that is now referred to as Alaska.
Allah: Arabic word for God. Allah is the same God worshiped by adherents of Christian and Jewish faiths. In dialogue, Muslims speaking English and referring to God should say “God,” not “Allah.”
Allosexual: The opposite of asexual; someone who regularly experiences sexual attraction toward other people.
Amazigh: The Amazigh people (22-40 million) inhabit a territory spanning most of North Africa, from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts up to the Sahel. Since the 20th century, it also has had a substantial presence in Europe through the Amazigh diaspora. North Africa’s 25 million Amazigh (so-called Berbers) have long struggled to preserve their identity. Originally spread across the south of the Mediterranean, the majority have lived in Algeria and Morocco for thousands of years but have been denied the right to inhabit their culture and speak their language for centuries. Amid a long history of colonial suppression is the desire to no longer be referred to as Berbers but as Amazigh, meaning "free people,” and for their language to be known as Tamazight. Though these issues are still being hotly debated between the people concerned and those wielding power, progress has been made. Find more here.
American Indian: a general term that has been used in federal law and U.S. government departments, and therefore appears in federal, state, or local legislation and within judicial proceedings. While this term is used by the federal government, the term has fallen out of usage and acceptability by Native peoples today. This term should not be used to refer to Native peoples unless in the context described above.
Anchor baby: An offensive term often used to refer to a child born to a non-citizen parent under the assumption the child will provide them a path to securing citizenship or legal residency.
Androgyny: A gender expression that contains physical elements of both masculinity and femininity or neither. Note: Androgyny is a form of gender expression (how someone outwardly expresses their gender), not a gender identity (their innate sense of gender). While some non-binary people have an androgynous gender expression, others do not; androgyny is not a requirement to be or synonymous with non-binary.
Arab: Arabs are people who identify as being from one of the 22 Arab League Nations (see below) who share a common language, history and culture. Arabs are also one of many ethnicities that practice Islam. But not all Arabs are Muslim; 7% adhere to other religions (e.g., approximately 5% of Arabs are Christian; approximately 63% of U.S. Arabs are Christian, 24% Muslim, 13% are other or have no religious affiliation).
The Arab League: Comprises 22 members: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen. The term “Arab” morphed in meaning over the centuries. At times, it meant Bedouin tribes from southern Arabia. It was a linguistic marker, meaning anyone whose language or origin was Arabic. Current meaning refers to nationalistic/ethnic kinship. Used here as an expansive category including all those identifying as “Arab.”
ART, PrEP, and PEP: Medications that treat or prevent the spread of HIV. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication treats and manages HIV in HIV+ people. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are used by HIV- people at risk of getting HIV through sex or injection drug use. When taken correctly, these medications can make HIV+ people undetectable (i.e., reduce the amount of HIV in the body to untransmittable levels) and prevent the spread of HIV. For more.
Aromantic (aro): A person who experiences little or no romantic attraction. Aromantics might or might not experience sexual attraction. For more.
Asexual (ace): A person who experiences little or no sexual attraction (to people of any gender).
Asexuality: The total or near total lack of sexual attraction to anyone and/or the lack of desire for sexual contact. Asexuality is not a choice; it shouldn’t be conflated or confused with celibacy, abstinence, or low sex drive. Asexuality is a spectrum, and there’s considerable diversity in the needs and experiences among members of the ace community (e.g., attractions, relationships, disabilities, cultures). It should be noted that while some aces consider “asexual” their sexual orientation, others feel like they have no orientation at all. For more.
Asian American: A term used to describe an American of Asian descent. It’s not an ideal term because it collapses countless identities and cultures into one label and often only refers to the East Asian American experience. For more on the complexity of this label, as well as the larger “Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI)” label, here is a helpful video.
Asian Latinx: Two of America’s fastest-growing ethnic groups are Asian and Latino, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. For centuries, Asian immigrants have settled throughout Latin America. There are Korean communities in Mexico and Argentina; Chinatowns everywhere from Santo Domingo to Lima; and there’s a major Japanese population in Brazil. The immigrants’ descendants carry both Asian and Latin American identities. In the U.S., Asians and Latinos have lived side-by-side in heavily immigrant neighborhoods and have created lives together. See here for more details. For a reader on how to write about the Asian Latinx community, check out Storyline Partner’s reader here.
A-spec: An umbrella term for the asexual and/or aromantic spectrums. This includes anyone who experiences little to no romantic and/or sexual attraction (e.g., asexuals, aromantics, graysexuals, demisexuals). More on some of the many a-spec identities here.
Assigned Female at Birth/Assigned Male at Birth (AFAB/AMAB): A way of referring to the sex designated to someone at birth. This is preferred language to replace outdated “FTM” or “MTF.”
Asylum seekers: A person applying for protection in a country because they cannot return to their home country for fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or membership in a particular social group. Unlike the refugee process, those who apply for asylum must do so at a land border or from inside the country. Many countries signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and those countries all follow similar protocol. Those countries who did not sign might not have specific laws in place for protection. Asylum acceptance rates and protections can vary from country to country. Read more via United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.