I need to ask for users' genders and sexual orientations in a normalized way that allows for filtering users on both properties (so I can't just store user-provider strings). What's the most inclusive way to do this?

For genders, ISO_5218 recommends having the options: 0 (not known), 1 (male), 2 (female) and 9 (not applicable); but this groups a lot of people who identify in many distinct ways in the same bucket. For sexual orientations I haven't found a standard.

Right now I'm thinking of having a set of genders and a set of sexual orientations that users can pick from, as well as having the option to provide a custom string for both. But that's not great for filtering (custom strings would not fall into any filters), and I don't know what genders and sexual orientations to include in the list.

Are there any inclusive established practices for this?

2 Answers 2


The Williams Institute of the UCLA Law School published a paper titled Best Practices for Asking Questions to Identify Transgender and Other Gender Minority Respondents on Population-Based Surveys. It's a culmination of studies by the Gender Identity in U.S. Surveillance (GenIUSS) group about the best way to accurately identify transgender people and other gender minorities in surveys.

They recommend that when two questions can be included they be asked as:


What sex were you assigned at birth, on your original birth certificate?

  • Male
  • Female


How do you describe yourself? (check one)

  • Male
  • Female
  • Transgender
  • Do not identify as female, male, or transgender

(They're also exploring a further breakdown of the responses for the Current Gender Identity question using the options "male," "female," "trans male/trans man," "trans female/trans woman," "genderqueer/gender non-conforming," and "different identity (please state): _______")

When only a single question can be included in a response form, the report recommends phrasing it as

Some people describe themselves as transgender when they experience a different gender identity from their sex at birth. For example, a person born into a male body, but who feels female or lives as a woman. Do you consider yourself to be transgender?

  • Yes, transgender, male to female
  • Yes, transgender, female to male
  • Yes, transgender, gender non-conforming
  • No

The paper also includes a recommended way of asking about LGBT identity:

Do you think of yourself as (please check all that apply):

  • Straight
  • Gay or lesbian
  • Bisexual
  • Transgender, transsexual, or gender non-conforming

IF yes to transgender, then probe:

  • transgender or transsexual, male to female
  • transgender or transsexual, female to male
  • Gender non-conforming

The paper also provides some recommendations on collecting this data from adolescents, ethnic minorities, and low socio-economic status communities.

  • Thanks! This is specifically for a conversational UI, so the user will reply to the question by typing something. Should I try to match their answer to one of these bullets and reply with a "did you mean...?"-type question? Jul 21, 2016 at 22:42

I feel like the solution you suggested is the right one, allowing a string input if the options provided aren't satisfactory. A category of "Other" could be used to stand for these inputs. (Even without the custom input field, you would need an "Other" option to be all-inclusive.)

Edit: If "Other" sounds harsh, perhaps "Acategorical" might work better.

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