The Associated Press Just Updated Its Language on LGBTI Issues

The Associated Press Stylebook (AP) which has been used as a writing Bible by journalists around the world for decades has issued new guidelines around LGBTI language.

One major change includes updating the use of ‘they’ as a singular.

The new stylebook entry will allow for the first time allow the use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun or gender-neutral pronoun.

‘We stress that it’s usually possible to write around that,’ said Paula Froke, lead editor for the AP Stylebook.

‘But we offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she.’

The new entry in the stylebook states:

‘They, them, their: In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.’

Froke said it was important to clarify when they as a genderless pronoun.

‘We specify that you need to make clear in the context that the ‘they’ in question is just one person,’ Froke said.

‘We don’t, among our own staff, want to open a floodgate. But we recognize a need for it, so we want to open it a bit.

‘The whole issue is difficult. We worked very hard to come up with a solution that makes sense.

‘Clarity is the top priority. Our concern was the readers out there. Many don’t understand that they can be used for a singular person.’

Froke said the stylebook had made other gender related changes in the new stylebook which is released May 31.

‘We have a new umbrella entry on gender and sex, noting that not everyone falls under one of two genders,’ she said.

‘That particular entry also notes that language around gender is evolving. Because this language is ever evolving, newsrooms and organizations outside of AP may have to make their own decisions.’

Some reporters endorsed the move, while others said the changes might not go far enough.

‘Style guides sometimes move in baby steps,’ Wall Street Journal columnist and linguist Ben Zimmer told Poynter.

‘This seems to be a step in a good direction, even if it’s not a full-throated endorsement of singular they.’


Other changes in the stylebook include, LBGT being updated to now read LGBTQ and the entry on phobia was also updated.

It used to say a phobia was ‘an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. … Do not use in political or social contexts: homophobia, Islamophobia’.

But not it says it is acceptable to use ‘phobia’ when referring to homophobia and xenophobia.

The changes will become official immediately and in the online style guide.