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Inclusive Language

It’s important to use language that shows our users we respect them. Follow our recommendations and refer to CDC’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communications.

Gender and sex

As stated in the AP Stylebook, gender is not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics.

Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations. So avoid references to both, either, or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people.

HRSA’s own guide on pronouns states that gender extends beyond the binary male and female categories. Sometimes people may identify with a gender that is not traditionally linked to their appearance, or they may identify with multiple genders, or no gender at all.

Here are definitions from the CDC:

  • Gender: The cultural roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes we expect of people based on their sex.
  • Gender Expression: How a person chooses to present their gender to others through physical appearance and behaviors, such as style of hair or dress, voice, or movement.
  • Gender Identity: A person's sense of their self as man, woman, transgender, or something else.
  • Sex: A person's biological status as male, female, or something else. Sex is assigned at birth and associated with physical attributes, such as anatomy and chromosomes.


We follow APA Style for pronoun usage instead of AP Style.

The singular they is a generic third-person singular pronoun in English. Use of the singular they is inclusive and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender. Many advocacy groups and publishers have accepted and endorsed it.

  • Always use a person’s self-identified pronoun, including when a person uses the singular they or other words like ze/zir.
  • Use they as a generic third-person singular pronoun to refer to a person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context. Do not use (s)he, s/he, or he or she.
  • If you do not know someone’s pronouns, reword the sentence to avoid a pronoun or use the pronoun they.

People-first language

Using people-first language is a respectful way to recognize a person before their condition or situation. It describes what a person has rather than what a person is.

However, some people in these groups prefer phrases that are not people-first. If you're referring to a specific person who uses a different phrase to describe themselves, use that phrase instead.

UseInstead of
People without homeshomeless people
People experiencing povertypoor people
People with a disabilitydisabled, differently abled, handicapped
People who smokesmokers
People who use drugs, people with substance use disordersdrug users, addicts
People who do not have health insuranceThe uninsured
People with mental illnessmentally ill
People living with HIVHIV-positive people
People with limited English proficiencynon-English speaker


Exception: According to the National Association of the Deaf, many members of the Deaf community prefer to be called deaf or hard of hearing. Capitalize when referring to the Deaf community in a cultural sense, but lowercase deaf when describing an inability to hear.

Race and ethnicity

The Office of Management and Budget Statistical Programs & Standards, last updated in 1997, explains how to maintain, collect, and present data on race and ethnicity. When writing about race and ethnicity in statistical information, refer to the standard for guidance.

The standards do not identify or designate certain population groups as minority groups.

It’s best to ask someone how they self-identify when you include information about that person’s race and ethnicity. Do not decide on a person’s race and ethnicity from the way they look.

BlackAlways capitalize. When referring to a group of people, use Black people rather than Blacks.
African AmericanNot hyphenated. Do not use in place of Black as the meaning is not the same. Not all Black people in the United States identify as African American.
Asian AmericanNot hyphenated. Mention a specific heritage, such as Japanese American, if appropriate.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)Not commonly used outside members of the group.
American Indian, Native AmericanBoth are acceptable. Do not use Indian.
whiteDo not capitalize. Do not use Caucasian. When referring to a group of people, use white people rather than whites.
Latino, LatinaPreferred term for a person from a Latin American country. Latino is male and Latina is female. Plural for a group of females is Latinas, for a group of males or mixed gender, Latinos. Use a specific ethnicity like Mexican American, if appropriate.
HispanicAcceptable term for a person from a Spanish- speaking country. Use a specific ethnicity like Mexican American if appropriate.
Minorities or People of colorUse either minorities or people of color when referring to multiple races that are not white. Context is key. Specify racial or ethnic groups when you can.
Biracial, multiracialNot hyphenated

Other terms

UseInstead of
Pregnant peoplePregnant women
Older adultElderly, Senior, Senior Citizen
TransgenderTransgendered, transsexual
Gay, Lesbian, QueerHomosexual
It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and intersex. The plus sign includes any other identities that are part of the community.
Note: Do not spell out the acronym.
Undocumented immigrantsIllegals, illegal aliens
PronounsPreferred pronouns
Sexual orientationSexual preference
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