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AP Stylebook Embraces 'They' as Singular, Gender-Neutral Pronoun

Among the updates to the journalism reference guide is new guidance on the limited use of “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

by Brooke Sopelsa /
AP StylebookNBC News

In its latest edition, the Associated Press Stylebook -- a widely used reference for journalists -- is embracing the use of “they” as a singular pronoun.

“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,” Paula Froke, lead editor for the AP Stylebook, announced at the annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference on Friday.

Froke did stress, however, that “they” as a singular pronoun should be used sparingly, adding “it’s usually possible to write around that.”

Genderqueer advocate Jacob Tobia, who uses gender-neutral pronouns including “they,” welcomed the decision.

“It's an important step forward for gender equality and feminist empowerment. Because of this change, transgender and gender-nonconforming people will gain greater respect and dignity in the media,” Tobia told NBC Out. “It’s great to know that I won't have to fight so hard to have my pronouns respected by journalists.”

Shannon Cuttle, an LGBTQ advocate who also uses gender-neutral pronouns like "they," agreed.

"Those that have non-binary identities often are not represented or erased," they told NBC Out. “This change signals a better representation of the spectrum of gender identities.”

The addition of “they” as a singular pronoun is not the only LGBTQ-inclusive change made to the 2017 AP Stylebook.

LGBTQ or LGBT

Among the additional updates is the acceptance of “LGBTQ” (in addition to the previously accepted “LGBT”) when referencing the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer community. The guide does, however, add a cautionary note about the word “queer.”

“The word queer can be considered a slur in many contexts, so limit use of the word to quotes and names of organizations.”

Gender vs. Sex

In an entry on “gender,” this year’s guide notes that gender is “not synonymous with sex.”

“Gender refers to a person’s social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics,” the entry reads. “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.

Homophobia

For the first time, the AP Stylebook has added an entry for “homophobia, homophobic.” The entry states that the two words are “acceptable in broad references or in quotations to the concept of fear or hatred of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.”

The online edition of the 2017 AP Stylebook is now available, and the print version will be published on May 31.