Welcome to our Diversity and Social Justice Glossary page. This glossary is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every word and term used in conversations about diversity and social justice. Because of the way language works, especially around these concepts, many of these words and terms will continue to evolve. Even so, it can be useful to have a reference that provides basic working definitions that help spur discussions. Much of this resource was compiled and adapted from existing resources provided by the National Conference for Community and Justice, Oregon State University, Arizona State University – Intergroup Relations Center, and The National Center for Transgender Equality.
Ableism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in physical, mental, and/or emotional ability; usually that of able‐bodied/minded persons against people with illness, disabilities, or less developed skills/ talents.
Able-bodied: A person who does not have a disability.
Accessibility: The extent to which a facility is readily approachable and usable by individuals with disabilities, particularly such areas as the personnel office, worksite and public areas.
Adultism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions against young people, in favor of older person(s).
Adrogyne/Androgynous/Androgyny: (n) 1) Someone who reflects an appearance that is both masculine and feminine, or who appears to be neither or both a boy and a girl, whether intentionally or unintentionally; 2) A person whose identity is between the two traditional genders; or 3) A person who rejects gender roles entirely.
Advocate: Someone who publicly and actively support a particular cause. Can be related to their or another identity group.
Agent: The perpetrator or perpetuator of oppression and/or discrimination; usually a member of the dominant, non‐target identity group.
Ageism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in age; usually that of younger persons against older.
Ally: A person of one social identity group (e.g., heterosexual, cisgender) who stands up in support of members of another group (e.g., lesbians, transgender people); typically, a member of dominant group allying for a member or members of targeted group (e.g., a male arguing for equal pay for women).
American: A native or inhabitant of any of the countries of North, South, or Central America. Widely used to denote a native or citizen of the United States.
Anti‐Semitism: The fear or hatred of Jews, Judaism, and related symbols.
Asexual: Having no evident sex or sex organs. In usage, may refer to a person who is not sexually active, or not sexually attracted to other people. Sometimes referred to as simply “Ace”.
Autism: Also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
Bias: An inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment. Can be negative or positive (affinity bias).
Biphobia: The fear or hatred of persons perceived to be bisexual.
Bi‐racial: A person who identifies coming from two races. A person whose biological parents are of two different races.
Bigendered/Dual Gendered: A person who possesses and expresses a distinctly masculine persona and a distinctly feminine persona. Is comfortable in and enjoys presenting in both gender roles either simultaneously or alternately.
Bisexual (adj.): Attracted to members of both the male and female sex.
Categorization: The natural cognitive process of grouping and labeling people, things, etc. based on their similarities. Categorization becomes problematic when the groupings become oversimplified and rigid (e.g., stereotypes).
Cisgender: Not transgender. Refers to the condition of having a gender identity that is consistent with sex assigned at birth (e.g., someone assigned female at birth who identifies as a woman).
Citizen: A legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.
Classism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in socio‐economic status, income, class; usually by upper classes against lower.
Coalition: A collection of different people or groups, working toward a common goal.
Code-switching: The act of altering one's communication style and/or appearance in different situations. Often members of target groups code-switch to minimize the impact of bias from the dominant group.
Collusion: Willing participation in the discrimination against and/or oppression of one’s own group (e.g., a woman who enforces dominant body ideals through her comments and actions).
Color Blind: The belief in treating everyone “equally” by treating everyone the same; based in the presumption that differences are by definition bad or problematic, and therefore best ignored (i.e., “I don’t see race, gender, etc.”). A type of microaggression that negates a person's experience as a member of their race.
Demisexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction to someone until a greater, often emotional, bond is formed.
Dialogue: Communication that creates and recreates multiple understandings; it is bidirectional, not zero‐sum and may or may not end in agreement; it can be emotional and uncomfortable, but is safe, respectful and has greater understanding as its goal.
Disability: A physical or mental condition that limits movements, senses, or activities. A person with a disability is just that, a person who has a disability. Place the emphasis on the person, not the disability. Never handicapped.
Discrimination: Actions, based on conscious or unconscious prejudice, which favor one group over others in the provision of goods, services, or opportunities.
Diversity: The wide variety of shared and different personal and group characteristics among human beings.
Dominant Culture: The cultural values, beliefs, and practices that are assumed to be the most common and influential within a given society.
Drag Queen/King (n): A man or woman dressed as the opposite gender, usually for the purpose of performance or entertainment. Many times overdone or outrageous and may present a “stereotyped” portrayal of gender.
Dysmorphism: A dysmorphic feature is a difference in body structure. It can be an isolated feature in an otherwise “healthy” individual, or it can be related to a congenital disorder, genetic syndrome, or birth defect.
Elitism: The belief that a select group of individuals with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skill, or experience are more likely to be constructive to society, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.
Ethnicity: Differs from race in that ethnicity refers to cultural factors, including nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language. A person can have multiple ethnicities but is said to have only one race (if multiracial, labeled "mixed").
Gender: Socially constructed binary concepts of masculinity and femininity often referred to as boy and girl, man and woman; the socially ‘appropriate’ qualities accompanying biological sex. Frequently used interchangeably with “sex”.
Gender pronouns: The pronouns that a person prefers and reflects their gender identity (e.g., she/her/hers; they/them/theirs; he/him/his). A variety of gender-neutral pronouns exist, most commonly they/them/theirs.
Genderqueer: A person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions, but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of masculine and feminine genders. A non-binary gender identity. May use gender-neutral pronouns.
Hate Crime: Hate crime legislation often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of the victim.
Heterosexism: The presumption that everyone is, and should be, heterosexual.
Heterosexual: A person who is attracted to members of the opposite sex.
Homophobia: The fear or hatred of homosexuality and other non‐heterosexual identities.
Homosexual: A person who is attracted to members of the same sex. (Not a preferred term. See: Gay, Lesbian)
Hermaphrodite: An individual possessing the reproductive organs and many of the secondary sex characteristics of both sexes. (Not a preferred term for humans. See: Intersex)
Identity Politics: A tendency for people of a religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.
In‐group Bias (favoritism): The tendency for groups to “favor” themselves by rewarding group members economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally in order to uplift one group over another.
In-groups and Out-groups: An in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify.
Intergroup Conflict: Tension and conflict which exists between social groups. And which may be enacted by individual members of these groups.
‐Ism: Social phenomenon and psychological state where prejudice is accompanied by the power to systemically enact it.
Intersectionality: the interconnected nature of social identities such as race, class, and gender that creates interdependent systems of privilege and disadvantage.
Intersex: 1) A person who is biologically intermediate between male and female; 2) A person with both ovarian and testicular tissue; or 3) A person with two ovaries or two testes, but ambiguous external genitalia.
Latinx: A person of Latin American origin or descent (gender-neutral version of Latino or Latina).
Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women. (adj.) describing such women.
LGBTQ: Acronym encompassing diverse groups of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer populations and allies and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer alliances/associations. The acronym has evolved over the decades and there is debate about which one is most inclusive. There is the cumbersome LGBTQQIAAP (with 2nd Q = questioning, I = intersex, A = asexual, A = allies, and P = pansexual). Most commonly encountered is LGBTQ, but LGBTQ+ is increasing in usage.
Lookism: Construction of a standard for beauty and attractiveness, and judgements made about people based on how well or poorly they meet the standard.
Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.
Model Minority: Refers to a minority ethnic, racial, or religious group whose members achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. This success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.
Multiplicity: The quality of having multiple, simultaneous social identities (e.g., being male, Buddhist and wealthy).
Multiracial: An individual whose parents are born from more than one race.
Multiethnic: An individual that comes from more than one ethnicity. An individual whose parents are born from more than one ethnicity (See Ethnicity).
Naming: When we articulate a thought that traditionally has not been discussed.
National Origin: The political state from which an individual hails; may or may not be the same as that the person's current location or citizenship.
Neurodiversity: A grassroot civil rights effort spearheaded largely by autistic individuals and focused on improving the lives of autistic individuals. Proponents view autism as a natural form of human diversity, not as inherently disordered.
Non-binary: A person who does not relate to gender in the traditional binary model of male and female. An identity that does not subscribe to the convention that there are only two gender identities.
Nondisabled: A person who does not have a disability.
Oppression: Results from the use of institutional power and privilege where one person or group benefits at the expense of another. Oppression is the use of power and the effects of domination.
Overprivileged: Disproportionately privileged compared to others; excessively privileged.
Pansexual: A term referring to the potential for sexual attractions or romantic love toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. The concept of pansexuality deliberately rejects the gender binary and derives its origin from the transgender movement.
People of Color: A collective term for men and women of Asian, African, Latin and Native American (non-White) backgrounds; as opposed to the collective "White" for those of European ancestry.
Personal Identity: Our identities as individuals‐including our personal characteristics, history, personality, name, and other characteristics that make us unique and different from other individuals.
Polyamory: The practice of having multiple open, honest love relationships.
Prejudice: A preconceived judgment about a person or group of people; usually indicating negative bias.
PrEP: Abbreviation for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a preventative treatment (daily pill) for people who do not have HIV, but who have a substantial risk of getting it. When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92%.
Privilege: A right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage, or favor. In the context of systematic oppression, privilege is unearned and granted only on the basis of perceived social identity.
Queer: An umbrella term that can refer to anyone who transgresses society's view of gender or sexuality. The definitional indeterminacy of the word Queer, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics: "A zone of possibilities." A term that was used by heterosexuals as an insult that has been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQ community. Note: some LGBT individuals find the word offensive and some queer-identified people may be offended if non-queer people use the term.
Questioning: A term used to refer to an individual who is uncertain of her/his sexual orientation or gender identity.
Race: A group of people thought to share certain distinctive physical characteristics, such as facial structure or skin color. Involves characteristics that are thought to be biologically inherited (unlike ethnic characteristics).
Racism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in race/ethnicity; usually by white/European descent groups against persons of color.
Rainbow Flag: The Rainbow Freedom Flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker to designate the great diversity of the LGBTQ community. It has been recognized by the International Flag Makers Association as the official flag of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.
Religion: A system of beliefs, usually spiritual in nature, and often in terms of a formal, organized denomination.
Safe Space: Refers to an environment in which everyone feels comfortable in expressing themselves and participating fully, without fear of attack, ridicule or denial of experience.
Same Gender Loving: A term coined by activist Cleo Manago as a description for homosexuals, particularly in the African American community. SGL is an alternative to terms for homosexual identities (e.g., gay and lesbian) that can carry negative connotations to some people.
Saliency: The quality of a group identity of which an individual is more conscious of in any given moment and which plays a larger role in that individual's day‐to‐day life; for example, a man's awareness of his "maleness" in an elevator with only women.
Sapiosexual: One who find the contents of someone else’s mind to be their most attractive attribute, above physical or other characteristics. The sexual orientation of a person who identifies as sapiosexual.
Serostatus: The state of either having or not having detectible antibodies against a specific antigen, as measured by a blood test (serologic test). For example, HIV seropositive mean that a person has detectible antibodies to HIV; seronegative means that a person does not have detectible HIV antibodies.
Sex: Binary biological classification of male or female (based on genetic or physiological features); as opposed to gender, which is social in nature (frequently used interchangeably with “gender” despite this difference).
Sexism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in sex/gender; usually by men against women but can also involve women against other women.
Sexual Orientation: One's natural (not chosen) preference in sexual partners; predilection for homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, or other sexual identities.
Silencing: The conscious or unconscious processes by which the voice or participation of particular social identities is exclude or inhibited.
Social Identity: A person’s sense of who they are based on their group memberships. Each person has multiple social identities associated with varying degrees of privilege.
Social Identity Development: The stages or phases that a person's group identity follows as it matures or develops.
Social Justice: A broad term for action intended to create genuine equality, fairness and respect among peoples.
Social Justice Warrior: A pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive view, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism, as well as identity politics.
Social Oppression: When one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another group for its own benefit.
Social Self‐Esteem: The degree of positive‐negative evaluation an individual holds about his/her particular situation in regard to his/her social identities.
Social Self‐View: An individual's perception of to which social identity groups he/she belongs.
Socialization: The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
Spanglish: A colloquial and contested mixture of Spanish and English words, phrases and grammar.
Spotlighting: The practice of inequitably calling attention to particular social groups in language, while leaving others as the invisible, de facto norm. For example: "black male suspect" (versus "male suspect," presumed white); "WNBA" (as opposed to "NBA," presumed male); “female senator” (versus “senator”, presumed male).
Stereotype: Blanket beliefs and expectations about members of certain groups that present an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. They go beyond necessary and useful categorizations and generalizations in that they are typically negative, are based on little or misguided information, and are highly generalized.
Stereotype Threat: A situational predicament in which a people are or feel themselves to be at risk of confirming a stereotype about their social group.
System of Oppression: Conscious and unconscious, non‐random, and organized harassment, discrimination, exploitation, discrimination, prejudice and other forms of unequal treatment that impact different groups.
Tolerance (n): Acceptance and open‐mindedness to different practices, attitudes, and cultures; does not necessarily mean agreement with the differences.
Transphobia: The fear or hatred of persons perceived to be transgender and/or transsexual.
Transgender: Appearing as, wishing to be considered as, or having undergone surgery to present in a way that is consistent with a person’s gender identity. Transgender is an umbrella term that can include transsexuals, cross‐dressers, drag kings/queens, masculine women, feminine men, and those who defy what society tells them is appropriate for their gender. Note: a person is transgender, not transgendered. A transgender person has gender dysphoria, not transgenderism.
Transsexual: A term that is waning in popularity (dubbed in 1923), refers person who has medically transitioned from the sex they were assigned at birth to another gender, usually the opposite sex (i.e., FTM and MTF). Some transgender people who medically transition do not identify as transsexual.
Two Spirit: A Native American term for individuals who identify both as male and female. In western culture these individuals are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.
Underprivileged: Not having the same standard of living or rights as the majority of people in a society.
Veteran Status: Whether or not an individual has served in a nation's armed forces (or other uniformed service).
White Denial: (A white person’s) denial that racism exists.
Worldview: The perspective though which individuals view the world; comprised of their history, experiences, culture, family history, and other influences.