Inclusive sports language for LGBTQ athletes

Martina Russo, CEO & founder
August 15, 2023

We’re starting to see a shift in the world of sports. The LGBTQ+ community is beginning to get some of the respect and acceptance it deserves. Inclusivity helps pave the way for everyone – regardless of gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation – to enjoy their favorite sports.

But the hard work is far from over. The way we speak to – and about – the LGBTQ+ community goes beyond the playing field. After all, inclusive language mirrors what the action sports industry is all about – all of us enjoying the moment together.

Inclusive language should be the norm. For the LGBTQ+ community to truly feel welcome in outdoor and action sports, we must all do our bit to ensure our words don’t have a negative impact – and back those words up with actions that support LGBTQ+ folks.

That means avoiding exclusionary language and welcoming all athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, regardless of identity. If you need guidance or would like to find out what steps the outdoor sports community can take to support the LGBTQ+ community, keep reading. We’ll share why inclusive language matters for LGBTQ+ athletes and outdoor fans and how we can put the right words into action.

Why inclusive language is important for the LGBTQ+ sports community

Everyone in the LGBTQ+ community has the right to feel safe and supported within their sports. Inclusive language sets the right tone for everyone, including participants, brands, supporters and spectators. A lack of inclusion means division.
For outdoor sports enthusiasts, feeling like they belong to a community that accepts them wholeheartedly plays a huge part in their success. Inclusive language fosters that feeling, so they can bring their authentic selves to their sport of choice with no limits or caveats.

There’s no place in the action sports industry for harassment, anti-LGBTQ+ language or bullying. Even if you’re not intentionally non-inclusive, the language you use matters. For example, some people might not realize that using the wrong names or pronouns is offensive; but the more we educate ourselves, the better equipped we’ll be to remove sexist, homophobic or transphobic terms from communications.

Outdoor brands can’t make assumptions

There is no one way to be LGBTQ+. Not all LGBTQ+ individuals conform to gender stereotypes. They don’t all speak publicly about their sexuality or gender identity, either. But that doesn’t mean they don’t identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. To create a truly welcoming community, outdoor brands should avoid assumptions about who their consumers are, how they feel and what they believe in.

Don’t wait for someone to tell you they’re part of the LGBTQ+ community. Regardless of who’s on your team, start using inclusive language, practices and policies in everything you do to create an environment free from discrimination. If you lead by example, your community will follow.

How to use inclusive language in your communications

Using inclusive terms and phrases is super important if you want to welcome LGBTQ+ folks into your community. Stay away from gender-based stereotypes. The adrenaline rush we get at the top of the mountain or in the barrel of the wave doesn’t discriminate based on who we are or who we love. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when you create your tone of voice guidelines and write new content.

If you want to confidently dive into addressing the LGBTQ+ community, follow these tips:

    • Avoid gender-exclusive language wherever there’s an alternative. Phrases like “Hello, ladies and gentlemen” discriminate against non-binary and gender-diverse people. Instead, say something more welcoming – like “Hello, everyone”.
    • Stay away from gendered phrases that could be seen as offensive. Phrases such as “man up” aren’t particularly empowering. They can also be seen to suggest that some genders are weaker than others.
    • Use correct pronouns. It’s not offensive to ask people which pronouns you should use to address them. It is offensive to use the wrong pronouns – especially if you’ve already been told what they are.
    • Respect the names your community members choose to use. Chosen names are incredibly important to the LGBTQ+ community – especially those who are non-binary and transgender. One way to respect this is to make space for them to provide their chosen name instead of or alongside their legal name on any paperwork you ask them to fill out.
    • Don’t make comments about people’s appearance. The way they choose to visually express themselves is up to them. It’s no one else’s business whether they choose to wear makeup or non-conventional clothes.
    • Celebrate different identities on social media. Show the world that you’re an ally to the LGBTQ+ community by bragging about what makes your fans unique (with their permission, of course) and share how you’re taking action to support them in all aspects of their identity. For example, do you provide full healthcare benefits to transgender people?

What else can sports and outdoor brands do to create an inclusive LGBTQ+ community?

To truly speak to the LGBTQ+ community, you need to educate yourself about their experiences. By understanding the challenges that outdoor sports enthusiasts in the LGBTQ+ community face, you’ll be better able to find ways to make them feel welcome. Here’s how:

Build an inclusive culture and community

Inclusivity only succeeds if everyone’s on board. Outdoor sports brands have the power to tackle some of the inequalities the LGBTQ+ community faces, but only if they lead by example. There’s absolutely no excuse for anti-LGBTQ+ practices in our industry – make sure your community knows it.

Provide gender-neutral clothing

You can make transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals feel safe by providing comfortable clothing for all bodies. For example – feature a line of gear that’s fully unisex so people can easily choose the products that help them feel and perform their best.

Respect the wishes of transgender and non-binary folks

We can all empathize with the experiences that transgender and non-binary people face in sports, but only they can decide what’s best for them. Allow them to determine which facilities they feel safest and most comfortable using and accommodate their wishes as best you can. For example, if you’re hosting or sponsoring an event, ensure the facilities include private stalls so people can change comfortably. Likewise, mark which bathrooms are private or gender-neutral.

Call out non-inclusive language when you hear it

If you hear anyone in your community using offensive or non-inclusive language, call them out on it. Educating them on why their language isn’t acceptable can help them understand why inclusivity matters and how their words can do harm. This may feel uncomfortable – but it’s important to address the behavior as soon as you can.

Banish the overwhelm – we’re on hand to help

Feel like you’re just treading water with your communications? Good news – it doesn’t have to be this way. If you need support with sports translations, building LGBTQ+ friendly tone-of-voice guidelines or creating content for your community, look no further. We help some of the world’s biggest sports brands find their voice – and we can do the same for you. Ready to take the plunge? Drop us an email at to kickstart the conversation.

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Martina is the CEO and founder at The Action Sports Translator. After starting her career in marketing translation in 2010, she has been recognized as a Localization industry influencer multiple years in a row and has been working with some of the world's most exciting brands to bring multilingual marketing campaigns to life.

Co-founder and localization manager at Protect Our Winters Italy, she founded The Action Sports Translator to provide outdoor brands with a sports translation service that truly gets them. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her climbing a mountain or snowboarding down the other side.

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