2SLGBTQI+ allyship in language: Words matter

Posted on May 15, 2023

Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (2SLGBTQI+Note 1) folks often struggle with coming out in the workplace. For many members of the broader 2SLGBTQI+ community, the decision to live authentically at work is contingent on whether they perceive their environment and colleagues to be inclusive.

To foster a healthy culture of civility and inclusiveness in the workplace, allies are needed. An ally is an individual who listens to the needs of a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against, and who speaks out and stands up for them. An ally works to end oppression by supporting and advocating for people who are stigmatized, discriminated against or treated unfairly.

Being an ally is an active role, and allyship is a journey—it’s a constant work in progress and a commitment to learning and to a state of mind.

One way you can demonstrate your allyship to the 2SLGBTQI+ community—and contribute to a workplace that is truly inclusive of everyone—is by using inclusive language.

Here are some insights and tips to use as you build your inclusive communication skills.

What is inclusive language?

While language cannot bruise the skin, it can break the spirit.

We should strive to communicate in a way that builds bridges, breaks barriers and affirms peoples’ truths.

As noted in an article in the American Psychological Association’s student newsletter, “Inclusive language is more than just avoiding the use of a few antiquated or offensive terms and phrases. It is about embracing communication that acknowledges the power differentials and dynamics of our society and their deleterious effects. It is about showing appreciation for the diversity everyone brings to the table.”Note 2 This includes diversity in gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations and lived experiences .

The Government of Victoria’s inclusive language guide notes that “inclusive language ensures we don’t leave people out of our conversations or our work.”Note 3 This includes both the people we work with and the people we serve as public servants. Inclusive language should also be applied both when communicating directly with someone and when describing someone who is not present.

Examples of inclusive language include:

  • introducing yourself with your pronouns, and encouraging others to do the same, instead of assuming gender on the basis of appearances
  • using gender-neutral words like “Can I get you folks something?” instead of “Can I get you ladies something?”
  • using person-centered language, which avoids unnecessarily dehumanizing people and reducing them to their gender or sexual identities (for example, saying “gay men” instead of “the gays,” or “a transgender person” instead of “a transgendered”)Note 4

Inclusive language also encompasses a variety of communication modes, including verbal communication, emails, social media, websites and imagery.

Putting inclusive language into practice is a shared responsibility amongst employees of all classifications and levels. We can be leaders in this space regardless of whether we are in an entry-level position or the executive cadre.

Language is fluid

We should all put great thought into how we communicate with and about members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Attitudes can be the most difficult barrier members of the broader 2SLGBTQI+ community face when it comes to achieving full inclusion within the workplace and society.

It’s important to remember that language is a mirror of society's attitudes and perceptions. As such, language is constantly changing and advancing to better encompass new ideas, sentiments and connotations.

Generationally, we have seen huge societal shifts in how we speak of and address the broader 2SLGBTQI+ community. This includes the reclaiming of some terms which were previously used to disparage the community.

Applying inclusive language principles means focusing on the person/people over labels. Listen carefully to how different groups identify themselves and speak of their experiences, and reflect those linguistic choices when communicating with and about these groups. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

Impact over intention

When practicing allyship, your good intentions can sometimes miss the mark and lead to unintentional negative impacts. If this happens, one of the most important things to do is to listen and learn from the moment.

When putting inclusive communication into practice, you may make mistakes. That’s okay! Embrace that you are a learner and not necessarily an expert when it comes to understanding the identities and lived experiences of others.

Commit to doing better next time, which may require you to challenge your own unconscious biases, set time aside for self-reflection, and make a commitment to do more learning and listening.

Change is the result of small actions over time. Let’s start today, together.


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Giancarlo Cerquozzi

Giancarlo Cerquozzi

Giancarlo Cerquozzi

Giancarlo Cerquozzi (he/him) is the National Capital Regional Representative for the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) Employee Pride Network. He is passionate about 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion and furthering the application of Gender-based Analysis Plus through his work.




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Submitted by Matthew Ball on May 16, 2023, at 12:05

Great post Giancarlo. I like that you point out that inclusive language is a shared responsibility and everyone can be an ally, whether we are in an entry-level position or an executive. Words to live by!

Submitted by Jess RL on May 17, 2023, at 8:05

Great job Giancarlo! Great, practical ways at using inclusive language. Bravo!

Submitted by Watche on June 21, 2023, at 15:06

Very nice article, Love to read all, Great Job, Thanks A+++