Actors’ Equity Association has a new Brand Book and Style Guide, outlining Equity’s standards when visually or verbally representing the union.  

A Brand Book outlines the values and messages an institution wants most to communicate, and how to do so. A Style Guide is specific to writing— everything from spelling to punctuation to what words best support central ideas. Corporations have brand books, but non-profits and political organizations often do, too. Style guides are most commonly published by journalistic publications (like the Associated Press, most famously), but other bodies may want to have one if they have specific enough language needs. In Equity’s case, we exist in the worlds of theatre and the labor movement, both of which have very particular traditions around language. It is also often our job to communicate to the outside world about the needs of our members. For those reasons a Style Guide is an important asset to help Equity approach those responsibilities with consistency and clarity. 

Underway before – but consistent with – the Council resolution on #BlackLivesMatter and racial justice, Equity’s Style Guide features a section on relevant language for discussing topics related to diversity and inclusion. Constructed with supervision from the diversity and inclusion department, this section covers race, gender, disability and several other protected categories. 

"We use the language that makes each individual feel fully acknowledged and allows us to focus on work of creating safe and just theatre workspaces."


Members are encouraged to explore this section and learn how Equity reckons with language as part of the union’s ongoing mission to become an antiracist organization. Members are also welcome to share these standards with employers and directors as guidance on how to discuss these topics in the workplace. If you feel uncomfortable expressing concerns that someone is using dated or insensitive language, you can point to the union’s standards to support you. 

When Equity is consistent in our messaging, it strengthens the voice of the union. This includes clear standards on how to talk about the many ways that our diverse membership identifies, and often faces discrimination. This guide helps us articulate problems as they arise, as well as support one another. 

Language evolves over time, including what words we use to talk about issues relating to diversity and inclusion. This style guide is reflective of best practices in 2021. Not every decision the union made is going to feel right to every member. Some argue, for example, that capitalizing the first letters in both White and Black in reference to race creates a false equivalency when white is cultural norm. Others believe that a capital W forces a reckoning with whiteness as an identity. In this case, Equity opted for a capital B in Black, lower case W in white. This option ensures that we do not diminish Blackness, a marginalized identity, while also avoiding inviting debate about the capitalization of white after every usage and thereby detracting from the issue at hand. Language should serve to facilitate conversation, not hinder it.

The style guide is not set in stone. As language evolves, the document will be updated to reflect that. However, one principle is consistent: The idea that members of marginalized groups have the right to self-definition; personal preference supersedes whatever recommendations Equity makes. Ultimately, we use the language that makes each individual feel fully acknowledged and allows us to focus on work of creating safe and just theatre workspaces.   

You can find Equity’s Brand Book and Style Guide on the union’s website; the diversity and inclusion section is found on pages 17 and 18.