On October 21, 2020, the National LGBT Bar is proud to join the celebration of International Pronouns Day. For the third year, participants all over the globe will once again acknowledge and celebrate the importance of respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns.
Pronouns, by definition, are the words we use in place of someone’s name when referring to them in conversation (i.e. he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.). While it’s common to assume someone’s pronouns when speaking about them based on how we perceive their gender identity, everyone has the right to determine for themselves which pronouns they use. Additionally, not everyone’s gender expression aligns exactly with their gender identity, and assuming someone’s pronouns incorrectly can have a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing. We must normalize introducing ourselves, regardless of gender identity, with our pronouns (if any) and ask others for theirs respectfully. The mission of International Pronouns Day is to dismantle this bias of how we refer to others and raise awareness to the importance of sharing one’s pronouns, and how to do so respectfully. As stated by the International Pronouns Day organization, “referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity.”
All people, including cisgender individuals, should introduce themselves with their pronouns, as a profound act of solidarity and allyship. If only trans and gender nonconforming people make a point to inform others of their pronouns in an effort to not be misgendered, the simple act of sharing their pronouns effectively “outs” them. That’s why we need sharing pronouns to be normalized for everyone. Using the right pronouns is a critical step in acknowledging the humanity of trans and gender nonconforming people, and normalizing sharing your pronouns ensures those that do aren’t “othered.”
WHAT CAN I DO
There are small but effective ways in which we can “create an entry point into conversation” regarding the systemic oppression faced by transgender and gender nonconforming people and make the necessary changes. Making a conscious effort to share your pronouns can help foster a healthy environment where everyone in an organization or workplace is being referred to in a way that most aligns with their identity. The simple act of putting pronouns at the end of one’s email signature can raise awareness of the importance of sharing your pronouns, and can encourage others to do the same. Kris Brown, a law partner at Goodwin Procter LLP in New York City, shares in this video the impact he saw after he put pronouns in his e-signature. Kris said, “I felt it was as equally as important as a cisgender man to make this change.” He describes how a client of his chose him to be her attorney, simply because she felt it “showed a real commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
While some people may be comfortable sharing their pronouns, not everyone is familiar with how and why to share them, and others may choose not to share them. There are ways in which we can inquire about them respectfully. For instance, a conversation could begin with, “Hi, my name is Jack, and I go by he/him pronouns. How should I refer to you?” Other times, some people may simply want to be referred to by just their name and not pronouns at all.
Occasionally, you may make a mistake and use the wrong pronouns when referring to someone. Remember this: We’re only human, and these things happen. What’s important is to not center yourself – don’t profusely apologize, proclaim how you’re a terrible person, or ask for forgiveness if you refer to someone else with the wrong pronouns. Instead, simply apologize, correct yourself, and note to yourself mentally to do better next time, e.g. “She, sorry, I mean they are going to be taking minutes at today’s meeting.” And remember, if you forget to ask for someone’s pronouns or provide your own, it’s always better late than never.
It might take some time before you’re used to introducing yourself with your pronouns, asking others for theirs, or using the correct pronouns for someone else after they change theirs. However, it’s important to keep trying, and before you know it, it’ll be effortless! All your hard work plays a necessary role in fostering an inclusive environment.
The work towards LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion doesn’t end with pronouns. Dru Levassseur, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, has been on the ground working with law firms to educate others on best practices for LGBTQ+ people through Lavender Law 365™, our LGBTQ+ inclusion coaching and consulting program. Take this assessment to see where your firm is at and reach out to Dru for a free consultation. For more information on pronouns and their usage, please refer to the following links below.