The AP has announced it will now permit journalists to use “they” as a singular pronoun.
The style change was announced on Friday at the American Copy Editors Society conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. The move comes after years of debate and questions from editors and reporters regarding the specific language that should be used when referring to people who are non-binary or gender non-conforming. The new change is already in effect online and will be in the printed edition of the 2017 AP Stylebook on May 31st.
This is how the new entry will appear:
They, them, their In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze…
In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.
“It’s about time,” Wall Street Journal columnist and linguist Ben Zimmer said in an interview with Kristen Hare of Poynter. Back in 2013, the AP issued guidance on using the pronouns that a person prefers, but it only included those who used he/she/him/her pronouns. Journalists previously had to refer to non-binary people in their stories using only their names. “The idea that you could get away with just using the person’s name always seemed to be a bit of a copout to me,” Zimmer said. “I’ve seen that kind of pronoun avoidance happen.”
What the guidelines mean is that many other media outlets will now follow suit. The Associated Press is one of the leading sources for news across the globe. The AP also issued guidance properly defining “gender” and the use of terms including “homophobia” and “Fake News” as over 200 new entries were added to the 2017 stylebook.