Gender Expression in the Workplace

By Diana Sadighi posted 01-21-2022 02:13 PM


We have seen state and federal laws get more specific around gender expression and protections in the past few years. For example, Colorado's anti-discrimination act was amended last year to add gender expression and gender identity. In 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bostock v. Clayton County meant that courts would interpret the illegality of sex discrimination to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Employers wanting to understand more about this topic may find definitions helpful.

The following definitions have been compiled from the organizations listed in the resources section below. Language and word choice change over time, geography, and generations, and you can ask questions to clarify when someone uses one of these terms. Generally, these words are used by individuals to describe themselves or quote someone who uses the term for themselves.

Understanding these definitions can impact your organization's policies, hiring practices, supervisor training, and benefit plans, and reconsider your practices around the use of pronouns, dress codes, restrooms, and locker rooms.

Ally refers to a supporter or advocate for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer community. It encompasses straight and cisgender allies, as well as those within the LGBTQ community who support each other

Cisgender is a term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior aligns with those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. It is the accepted term for people who are "not transgender."

Gender, while often used interchangeably with "sex," refers specifically to the behavioral, cultural, psychological, or social traits typically associated with one sex rather than biological characteristics.

Gender Binary The idea that there are only two genders (male and female), and every person is one of those two.

Gender-expansive is an umbrella term sometimes used to describe people who expand notions of gender expression and identity beyond perceived or expected societal gender norms. Some gender-expansive individuals identify as a mix of genders, some identify more binarily as a man or a woman, and some identify as no gender

Gender Expression External appearance of one's gender identity is usually expressed through behavior, clothing, body characteristics, or voice, which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine. An individual's gender expression does not automatically imply one's gender identity. All people have gender expressions.

Gender-fluid is a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender and who may move among genders.

Gender Identity refers to a person's internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one's gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. It may or may not correspond with the individual's sex assigned at birth. 

Gender Non-conforming is a broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as "genderqueer" may see themselves as both male and female, neither male nor female, or falling completely outside these categories.

Gender Transition refers to the process through which a person modifies their physical characteristics and/or gender expression to be consistent with their gender identity. This process can be either a social transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns, or a physical transition in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.

LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. The "Q" can mean either 'questioning' or 'queer.' Sometimes, a "+" is added to represent those who are part of the community but for whom LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity. 

Non-binary describes a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary can also be used as an umbrella term encompassing identities such as genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or gender-fluid.

Queer is often used as a catch-all to include many people, including those who do not identify as exclusively straight and/or folks who have non-binary or gender-expansive identities. This term was previously used as a slur but has been reclaimed by many parts of the LGBTQ movement.

Questioning is used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sex At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of biological characteristics, including chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs. Often also referred to as "sex," "physical sex," "anatomical sex," or specifically as "sex assigned at birth." 

Sexual Orientation describes an individual's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same.

Transgender refers to people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad umbrella term and is good for non-transgender people to use.

This is only a sample of vocabulary used by the LGBTQ community. Additionally, some words may have different definitions under various local, state, or federal laws. For additional definitions, please consult the resources below.