Reporters and editors want to be sensitive to personal and minority-group concerns alongside their professional duty to be clear, accurate and non-partisan.
How to handle this balancing act amid the West’s fast-evolving verbiage to accommodate feminist or LGBTQ+ advocates? The media need to consider that proposed prohibitions now go well beyond replacement of “binary” pronouns with the singular usage of they-them-their (which breaks strict grammar in English and creates ambiguity on antecedents).
Grace Church School in lower Manhattan (sticker price $57,330 per year) provides a revealing rundown on new expectations for usage and diction in its “Inclusive Language Guide,” enacted last September. It says e.g. that instead of “boys and girls,” school personnel should now say “people, folks, friends,” or specifics like “readers” or “mathematicians.” Similarly, “husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend” give way to “spouse / partner / significant other.” The Grace community is asked to say “grown-ups, folks or family” and shun the formerly acceptable “parents” or “Mom and Dad.”
Some Moms and Dads were apparently upset upon learning about the guide when posted online in January. School leaders defended their new “inclusive” regimen but hastened to explain that wordings are “suggested,” not “mandatory,” and apply to the adult faculty and staff, not students.
The 12-page Grace guide, posted here under “Antiracism Resources” at is by no means unique in concept. It draws from such resources as the 2018 “language values” policy at New York City’s Bank Street College of Education, which media policy-makers need to be monitoring.
The key disputes involve LGBTQ+ expectations and especially regarding gender identity and fluidity. Grace opposes “heteronormativity,” that is, “the assumption that cisgender is the ‘norm’ or standard and transgender is the outlier or an abnormality.” (Editors should ponder the “cisgender” neologism for labeling persons whose gender identity or gender expression matches their biology.)
“Language is constantly evolving,” Grace correctly states, and the longstanding term “homosexual” should be eliminated. “More appropriate” designations include “queer,” formerly a derogatory equivalent of the N-word — but now rehabilitated as individuals’ deliberate “political identification.”
Grace seeks to eradicate the idea that “sexual orientation is a choice,” so phrases like “sexual preference” are out. Also to be avoided are “heteronormative assumptions” about how young students might identify themselves in the future because “sexuality can be fluid along the course of a person’s life.” Recommended language at Grace runs along lines of “people can love and commit to whomever they please. It’s their choice who they marry.”
Turning to race, many Grace tenets are common-sense matters of shunning bigotry or offense. We’re advised that “minority” (still used in journalism as above in this article) should be replaced by “person of color” as opposed to “colored people” (despite the NAACP’s name), or else speak of “marginalized” people. There are the usual warnings about “microaggression” and “white privilege.” The term “colorblind” should be scrapped because “no one is color blind as it pertains to race.”
Grace is multicultural and welcomes those “of all faiths and no faith at all.” Therefore, people shouldn’t wish anyone a “Merry Christmas.” Even the blandly non-sectarian “Happy Holidays” is shelved. Instead, people are asked to simply say “have a great break!”
The Guy again questions the current mode of saying that gender is “assigned” at birth, an inaccurate word because no birth assignments occur, whether the parents (there’s that word again), or the hospital staff, or society in general. Modern biological science informs us that the individual’s chromosomes determine gender. “Assigned” is a partisan word, never a good choice for journalists covering controversies.
Added background for anyone planning a story on the Grace debate: Some reports said incorrectly that the school is affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The school began 127 years ago as a boarding school for Episcopal choir boys at Grace Church. But today the K-12 coed prep school is non-sectarian and free from church control, though Grace’s Episcopal rector sits on the board.
Similar to other schools with an attenuated “mainline” Protestant heritage, Grace says it does retain “Episcopal identity” through commitment to social justice, service projects and “close acquaintance” with Jewish and Christian ethical principles. Required courses in elementary grades present the Bible as a compilation of “powerful stories” that have moved millions and “serve as truth to those for whom they are true.”