The AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) Style Guide is a set of standards AFC applies to its written communications, including statements and blog posts. The goal of the Style Guide is to provide guidance for our writers, guest bloggers and staff to use language that is non-stigmatizing, celebratory and reaffirming of the communities AFC serves. AFC aspires and encourages compassionate and colloquial language over clinical and stigmatizing terminology. Language is both personal and political. When referencing identities, AFC typically opts for people-first language. However, AFC recognizes that a person or community’s identities and how they are talked about are ultimately determined by those being referenced. Whenever possible, ask the person or people being identified in a statement, story, etc. about their preference for people- or identity-first language and defer to their response.
What is people-first language?
People-first language puts the person before their diagnosis, disability or condition. This is important to keep in mind, for example, when referencing people who are living with HIV. This method puts an emphasis on the person and reinforces the idea that a person is not defined by their diagnosis, disability or condition.
What is identity-first language?
Identity-first language emerged in reaction to the prominence of the people-first language movement. It often asserts that a person’s disability is an important part of their identity that should be embraced. Those who prefer identity-first language may treat their disability in the same way a person may relate to their gender, race or nationality.
Unless an entry is referenced in this guide, AFC's written communications follows the latest edition of the AP Stylebook.
AFC is dedicated to improving this guide and welcomes community feedback on existing entries and suggestions for new ones. To make a suggestion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Style Guide Suggestion."
Ableist Language Ableist language is any word or phrase that intentionally or inadvertently targets an individual with a disability. Examples of ableist language include “crazy,” “insane,” “lame,” “dumb,” “retarded,” “blind,” “deaf,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” “invalid (noun),” “maniac,” “nuts,” “psycho,” and “spaz.” Ableism is the systemic exclusion and oppression of people with disability, often expressed and reinforced through language. Do not use ableist language. When in doubt, please refer to this resource.
Acronyms/initialisms Include them in parentheses following first reference. Do not switch back and forth between acronym/initialism and full name. HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA) announced on Monday it would sign on to a report to the U.N. about racial injustices regarding HIV vulnerability.
Activist Preferred use is “HIV activists” or “community activists.” The difference between an activist and an advocate is that activists are usually unaffiliated with a service organization or are part of a direct-action network such as ACT UP.
Advocate Preferred use is “HIV advocate” or “community advocate.”
Affected “People affected by HIV and AIDS” means those living with HIV and those most vulnerable to infection.
Afflicted Do not use. Alternatives: “living with HIV,” “person with AIDS” or “HIV-positive person.”
African American Hyphenate as an adjective only. Black (with a capital "B") is preferred. The conference explored experiences shared by African Americans living with HIV. HIV-positive diagnoses among young Black gay males are on the rise.
AIDS Use when referring to a very specific stage of HIV disease. Do not use “died of AIDS”; rather, use “died of an AIDS-related illness” or “died of complications of AIDS” — or describe the circumstances. See HIV below for further guidance. She was diagnosed concurrently with HIV and AIDS.
AIDS Foundation Chicago Not “AIDS Foundation," “the Foundation,” or "AIDS Foundation of Chicago." Abbreviate with AFC after first full reference. AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) was founded in 1985.
AFC projects HIVHealthReform.org, IRMA, NFCC and so on should be described as “a project of AIDS Foundation Chicago” when it is appropriate or advantageous. It can also be appropriate to name other partners. Use “sibling project” when one project refers to another. A project of AIDS Foundation Chicago, founded in partnership with HIV Medicine Association, Project Inform and …HIV PJA’s sibling project, HIVHealthReform.org, released this week…
Anti-racist/Anti-racism Anti-racism is understanding how years of federal, state and local policies have placed communities of color in crises they face today and calling those policies out for what they are: racist. Anti-racism involves taking stock of and eradicating policies that are racist and that have racist outcomes. Anti-racism involves making sure we’re working towards a much more egalitarian, emancipatory society.
Asylum seeker Someone who is looking to leave the dangers of their home country in search of international protection. Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination and each case must be heard, according to U.S. and international law. However, not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee. See Refugee listing.
At-risk Includes hyphen when used as an adjective (i.e., at-risk populations). If it is used as a direct object, it does not include a hyphen (i.e., at risk for infection). “Vulnerable” is preferable to “at risk” or “at-risk.” See Vulnerable listing.
Bills To engage with the widest spectrum of readers, use the description of a bill alongside (or instead of) the official number. HB and SB are acceptable abbreviations, along with the bill number, on first use.
Bisexual Do not hyphenate. Sometimes referred to as “bi” in more casual settings or “bisexual+/bi+” to be inclusive of “bisexual” as an umbrella term. Refers to a person who has physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way and not necessarily to the same degree.
Black(s), white(s) AFC follows the guidance of the AP Stylebook on this. The AP Stylebook writes, "Do not use either term as a singular noun. For plurals, phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students is often preferable when clearly relevant. White officers account for 64% of the police force, Black officers 21% and Latino officers 15%. The gunman targeted Black churchgoers. The plural nouns Blacks and whites are generally acceptable when clearly relevant and needed for reasons of space or sentence construction. He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian Americans. Black and white are acceptable as adjectives when relevant."
Black AFC follows the guidance of the AP Stylebook on this. The AP Stylebook writes, "Use the capitalized term as an adjective in racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges. African American is also acceptable for those in the U.S. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow an individual's preference if known, and be specific when possible and relevant. Minneapolis has a large Somali American population because of refugee resettlement. The author is Senagalese American."
Black and Brown AFC does not use this term to refer to communities of color outside of quotations or names of organizations, because it is not all encompassing. See People of color.
Bloodborne One word.
BIPOC A noun pronounced "buy-pock" that stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color. As written in the Diversity Style Guide, "the term is meant to unite all people of color while acknowledging that Black and Indigenous people face different and often more severe forms of racial oppression and cultural erasure as consequences of systemic white supremacy and colonialism." Because this is a newer term that many in our community are not yet familiar with, AFC tends to use people of color. If you do use this newer term, please spell out the acronym with parentheses containing the acronym behind it on first reference as in Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).
Board Capitalize in all uses when referring to the AFC Board. On first reference: “AIDS Foundation Chicago Board of Directors”; use “AFC Board” and/or “the Board” in subsequent references. Do not capitalize when referring to other boards of directors. Use “Chair” or “Board Chair” to describe the leader of the Board. Each member of the Board is a Board member.
Capitalization In general, capitalize with restraint. In a headline, use sentence case rather than capitalizing all first letters. Advocates gathered in Washington, DC, for the annual HIV/AIDS conference.
Center for Housing and Health After first reference, use “the Center” or “CHH.” Indicate that it is affiliated with AFC in the first reference. The Center for Housing and Health, a supporting organization of AIDS Foundation Chicago, recently was awarded a grant to continue its housing initiatives.
Church or religious organization Preferred use is faith-based organization.
Citizens Do not use when referring to unspecific, large groups of people who live in a particular area (e.g. Chicago, the United States, etc.). Instead, use ‘Residents’ in order to be inclusive of people who are undocumented in the referenced area.
City Before “Chicago” or other cities, this should be lowercase. The city of Chicago’s annual STI surveillance report will be released next month.
Citywide One word, no hyphen.
Comma Do not use the “Oxford comma.” In a list, omit the comma before the last item. The organization is currently seeking a case manager, graphic designer and IT coordinator.
Community partner Any organization that AFC works with in “the community.” Can encompass a variety of organization types and relationships (contractual, non-contractual and so on). Do not capitalize.
Condom When referring generally to this barrier device, use “internal and external condoms” to be inclusive of both styles. Internal and external condoms are often referred to as “female” and “male” condoms, respectively, but in an effort to de-gender these barrier devices, use “internal and external” on first reference and “male and female” condom for clarity.
Consumer Do not use when referring to people who receive services through AFC or other partner organizations. Instead, use client or participant.
Copay One word, no hyphen.
COVID-19 Refer to COVID-19 as “the new coronavirus (COVID-19)” on first reference and “COVID-19” or “the coronavirus” on second reference in blog posts, statements and print communications. In headlines, emails and other forms of digital communications, “COVID-19” and “the coronavirus” are acceptable in all references. Avoid using “the pandemic.” COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019 and is caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Dates Abbreviate months with more than five letters when they precede a date — Dec. 1, 2014 — and leave unabbreviated on their own or with a year and no date — December 2014. For event listings, include the day of the week the event occurs on first reference. This year’s World of Chocolate event will take place on Friday, Dec. 4, 2014.
Department Capitalize AFC department names. The lunch-and-learn was conducted by members of the Programs and Policy departments.
Disease Do not use. Instead, use condition.
Elected officials Identify federal elected officials with party and state, separated by a comma (Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL). Identify state senators and representatives with the party and town they are from (D-Chicago). Aldermen and County Commissioners should be identified by their district or ward (44th Ward).
Ellipses This symbol for explaining a missing idea or quotation should consist of a single space, three periods (without spaces between them), and another space before the next word. If you haven’t been tested for HIV in the last six months … what are you waiting for?
Fiscal year Abbreviate as “FY 11” (with a space).
Flier/flyer Use “flier” to describe a handbill or other sheet of information. “Flyer” refers to things that fly.
Gender-fluid An adjective describing someone for whom gender identity and presentation is a spectrum. A gender-fluid person doesn’t confine themself to one gender, or even a few. Instead, they may fluctuate between presenting as feminine, masculine, neither, or both.
Gender-nonconforming A term for people who do not identify with the traditional view of two genders. When talking about individuals, be specific about how a person describes or expresses gender identity and behavior. Not synonymous with transgender.
Grantmaking One word, no hyphen.
Grassroots One word, no hyphen.
Harm reduction Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.
Headlines All headlines must include a verb. Only capitalize the first word of the headline and any proper nouns.
Health care Two words as a noun or adjective. Health care reform has been a great success. HIV/AIDS Never “AIDS/HIV.” “The HIV epidemic” is preferred over “the AIDS epidemic,” since HIV is a virus and AIDS refers to a stage of HIV disease and does not include everyone living with HIV. In general, use “HIV/AIDS” to describe nonhuman entities but use “HIV and AIDS” or “HIV or AIDS” to describe the human experience of the disease. The CDC reports that the lifetime cost to treat HIV for one person living with the virus is $466,000. Thirty Chicagoans living with HIV and AIDS gathered at the capitol on Wednesday to advocate for protection of HIV/AIDS funding in the state.
Homeless/Homelessness AFC uses people-first language, in which we place conditions like homeless as secondary to the wholeness and humanity of an individual. We never use homeless as an adjective to describe people. We don’t refer to people experiencing homelessness as “the homeless.” Here are some options to refer to people who are experiencing homelessness: people experiencing homelessness and people without stable housing. Unstably housed is an acceptable adjective to describe brief periods of homelessness. When possible, be specific when describing a person’s unique experience of homelessness, which can include couch-surfing, living in a vehicle, temporarily living in shelters, emergency room visits or living in another place unsuitable in supporting a person’s humanity and basic needs. Homelessness can be chronic, transitional and episodic.
Illinois’ Never Illinois’s (see “possessives” entry in AP Stylebook for more information).
Immigrant Someone who makes a conscious decision to leave their home and move to a foreign country with the intention of settling there. Someone who is an immigrant is not the same as a migrant. See Migrant listing.
Indigenous Capitalize this term used to refer to original inhabitants of a place. Bolivia's Indigenous peoples represent some 62% of the population. When speaking generally, AFC uses Indigenous rather than Native American to be inclusive of all Indigenous people, not just those in/from the U.S. Be specific when speaking of specific citizens or members of tribes and tribal nations.
Infection Do not use. Instead, say HIV transmission, diagnosed with HIV, etc. New HIV transmissions in Illinois have decreased over the past decade.
Justice-involved community Term to describe people who are or have been in jail or prison (which is also an acceptable description). Do not use “ex-offenders,” “felons,” “prisoners” or other non-people-first, disempowering terminology. “Returning citizen” is acceptable in some cases, as is the academic "reentry population." Ultimately, each term is problematic and only describes one aspect of a person’s life and experiences.
Latino/Latina, Latinx Preferred over “Hispanic.” Ask a person how they'd like to be identified and follow suit. Not all individuals use Latinx. When speaking generally about groups and communities, AFC uses the gender inclusive term Latinx to be inclusive of the populations we serve.
LGBTQ+ Use instead of GLBT, LGBT or LGBTQ in order to be inclusive of all identities that fall under this community umbrella. Avoid the term “homosexual.” See Queer.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) Avoid using. Instead, opt for “Gay and bisexual men”. While not a perfectly inclusive term, it is preferred in public-facing contexts. Avoid the term “homosexual.”
Migrant Someone who is moving from place to place (whether that’s within their home country or not), usually for economic reasons. Similar to immigrants, migrants are not forced to leave their homes due to persecution or violence, but rather to seek better opportunities. See Refugee and Asylum Seeker listings.
Mother to child transmission Do not use. Instead, say “acquired HIV at birth” or “perinatal transmission.” “Vertical transmission” is also sometimes used. New perinatal transmissions are rare in Illinois due to routine HIV testing through the third trimester of pregnancy.
Mx. Used instead of Mr., Mrs., or Ms. for someone who does not identify as either a man or a woman. Example: Mx. Smith.
Non-binary and/or Genderqueer (Non-binary people/Genderqueer people)* To refer to a group of individuals of various gender queer identities “non-binary” is acceptable in all references. Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary and/or genderqueer. Non-binary is sometimes shortened to enby.
Older adults Do not say “old people” or “the elderly”. Typically refers to people 50 years of age and up. One reason the number of older adults living with HIV is on the rise is because many were diagnosed when they were younger and antiretroviral therapy is helping them live long, healthy lives.
Pangender A non-binary gender identity, referring to people who experience all gender identities either simultaneously or over time.
Pansexual A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to any person, regardless of gender identity.
People of color (POC) Do not use “minorities.” “Communities of color” is an accepted variant. Or, better, be specific when referring to racial and national groups. POC is often used.
People with disabilities Never use “the disabled”. Use “disabled people” if the group or person being referenced prefers identity-first language. Otherwise, defer to the people-first language approach.
Polyamorous An adjective to describe people who have consensual relationships that involve multiple partners. Polyamorous people talk openly with their partners about having or having the desire to have sexual and/or emotional relationships with multiple people and often set ground rules for their relationships. Polyamorous people can be in relationships with monogamous people.
Policymakers One word, no hyphen.
PrEP Pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP) is a pill that is up to 99% effective at preventing HIV. It may be taken daily by people of all genders and adolescents. For more information about PrEP, visit prep4love.com.
President/CEO The title for AFC’s leader.
Preventive Not “preventative.”
Pronouns Refer to individuals by their indicated gender pronouns in all cases. Do not assume a person’s pronouns. If you do not know what pronouns someone uses, simply ask “What are your pronouns?”, rather than “What are your preferred pronouns?”. Pronouns are not a preference. Also note that not everyone uses pronouns. In those instances, use a person’s name instead. Be inclusive of all gender expressions, avoid using “he or she” or “him or her” when “they” or “their” would be appropriate as reference to an unknown/hypothetical person. If someone arrives early, please ask them to wait in the lobby.
Queer Queer has been reclaimed by many as an adjective to describe sexual and gender identities that may not be identified exclusively as lesbian, gay, bisexual, cisgender or transgender. Many people identify as both queer and another sexual or gender identity (e.g. queer and a lesbian). When Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it typically means queer. Although many also use the word to be inclusive, queer is not a universally accepted term, even within the LGBTQ+ community. For this reason, ask the subjects of your story to identify how they'd like their sexuality, gender and community described in writing. In example, some older adults are triggered by the word queer and prefer LGBT over LGBTQ+. If there is not a subject to defer to, use LGBTQ+.
Quotation marks The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence. Use double quotes (“ ”) in all cases except when including a quote within quotation marks; use single quotes (‘ ’) then. “Gov. Quinn vowed to ‘stand with the HIV/AIDS community and fund related programs appropriately,’ which is a statement we intend to hold him to,” said AFC’s government relations director.
Race Whenever possible, be specific about what racial, cultural, and ethnic communities you are referring to. Be cognizant of what you are talking about and be specific with your language to reflect that knowledge.
Racism Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.
Refugee Someone who has been forced to flee their home because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning. A person’s refugee status is determined by an official entity, such as a government or the United Nations Refugee Agency, and they are unable to return home until conditions in their homelands are safe. However, refugees in the U.S. can become permanent residents and eventually citizens. See Immigrant listing.
Service Providers Council Never Service Provider’s Council. Abbreviate as SPC on subsequent references. Capitalize Executive Committee.
Sex work Exchanges involving sex for money, material items, food, and/or a place to stay, or for other things. “Sex worker” is preferred over “prostitute,” but some people who do sex work do not identify as sex workers.
South Side The area of Chicago is two words, capitalized. When possible, use the name of the specific neighborhood(s) being referenced. “North Side” and “West Side” are acceptable.
Space Separate sentences with one space, not two.
Stand in Solidarity Avoid this common phrase; it is ableist. Use any of these alternatives instead: unite in solidarity, join in solidarity, support in solidarity, solidarity through action, in solidarity, demonstrate solidarity, activate in solidarity, exist in solidarity and bond in solidarity. See ableist language.
State Do not capitalize in front of a state name, even if referring to that state’s government. “The state of Illinois’ HIV criminalization laws is a detriment to the lives of people living with HIV.”
State abbreviations Two capitalized letters with no periods (IL). This rule applies for DC.
Substance use or drug use, not drug abuse. Use “People who use drugs” instead of “drug users.”
Suicide When referencing suicide, do not say “committed suicide” or refer to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful,” or a “failed attempt.” Instead describe as “death by suicide” or “killed themselves” and inform the audience without sensationalizing. Report on suicide as a public health issue and always offer hope and resources (e.g. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255)) for the audience. Follow additional guidelines provided at ReportingOnSuicide.org.
TasP Treatment as Prevention (TasP) means that people living with HIV on successful antiretroviral treatment — meaning their viral load is undetectable for at least six months —cannot transmit HIV sexually to their HIV-negative partners. Also see U=U listing.
They/their The singular they can be used to describe someone who identifies as neither male nor female. It is increasingly common for people who have a non-binary gender identity to use they/them as their pronoun. For example: "Jacob writes eloquently about their non-binary identity. They have also appeared frequently in the media to talk about their family's reaction to their gender expression." It can also be used when you don’t want to assign a gender to someone. For example: "Every individual should be able to express their gender in a way that is comfortable for them."
Time Use “p.m.” and “a.m.” (preceded by one space) to indicate the time of day. Do not include “:00” when a time is referenced that is on the hour. The Annual Meeting festivities kick off at 5 p.m.
Titles (job position) Capitalized when preceding a name, but lower-case when following a name or used in all other references. For 2015, President/CEO John Peller predicts that the Policy and Programs teams will continue to expand.
Titles (other) Titles of books, magazines, newspapers and radio programs are italicized. Titles of journal/magazine articles, poems and songs are put in quotation marks.
Transfeminine Someone who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and presents as feminine. This person may or may not identify totally as a woman or a transgender woman.
Transgender Do not use “transgendered.” “Transgender” is an adjective, not a noun. Do not use “transgenders” or “a transgender”; rather, use “the transgender community” or “transgender individuals,” “person of trans experience,” “woman of trans experience,” “man of trans experience.” “Trans” is also a generally accepted variant of “transgender.”
Transmasculine Someone who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and presents as masculine. This person may or may not identify totally as a man or a transgender man.
Transition Unless the individual prefers otherwise, avoid terms like “pre-operative,” “post- operative” or “sex change.”
U.N. Put periods between letters, except in headlines, where UN should be used.
U.S. Put periods between letters, except in headlines, where US should be used.
Under-served Always use hyphen to avoid being mistaken for “undeserved.”
Unprotected sex Do not use. Instead, describe sex without a condom as such — “condomless sex,” “sex without a condom,” etc.
U=U (Undetectable equals untransmittable) U=U promotes awareness around research that proves if a person living with HIV reaches an undetectable viral load through continued treatment, they will not transmit HIV. Also see TasP listing.
Victim Do not describe someone living with HIV as a “victim.”
Votes Formatted with a hyphen between the votes. The revised budget passed the house 16-1, with one voting present.
Vulnerable When describing populations that experience increased prevalence of HIV diagnoses, avoid referring to their “risk” for HIV. Indicate that they are vulnerable to HIV instead, to better reflect socioeconomic and historical context for the prevalence. Testing initiatives like MTI aim to provide access to HIV testing to communities that are vulnerable to HIV.
White privilege An inherent preference for whiteness that saturates society. White privilege provides white people with benefits that are unearned — and that are not granted to people of color. All people are impacted by white privilege.