Joshua Pemberton (please use my name/they/she), Support and Advice Team Leader at YMCA DownsLink Group Brighton and chair of the Gender and Sexuality Forum and member of the Diversity and Inclusion Forum, writes about why pronouns are important and the impact they make.
This year has been a Rona-coaster, where social inequalities and politics have been forefront of most conversations throughout our organisation and our lives. Taking stock and remembering the lessons we’ve learned can be a powerful tool in change and leading ourselves into a more intersectional and inclusive future.
At YMCA DownsLink Group, a critical focus of our Diversity & Inclusion Forum has been recognising and promoting the importance of understanding and correctly using pronouns. Through our work with staff, Allsorts Youth Project (specialist LGBT+ youth project), and most importantly, our young people, we have produced a set of recommendations around the use of pronouns which may be useful for everyone.
Why Pronouns are Important?
Pronouns, for people who are Gender-variant / Trans-identifying / Non-Binary / Queer, provide a signal about their gender expression and gives an opportunity for people who may be unaware, how individuals wish to be seen, understood and addressed. Vast amounts of evidence show that when pronouns are used correctly, it has the positive effect of individuals feeling valued and respected.
In the UK, Gender-variant / Trans-identifying / Non-Binary / Queer communities, face unprecedented amounts of marginalisation and discrimination in all areas of their life – work, education, family, communities – with statistics from leading LGBTQU+ charities highlighting this.
Two in five trans people (41 per cent) and three in ten non-binary people (31 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months
One in four trans people (25 per cent) have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives
Two in five trans people (40 per cent) adjust the way they dress because they fear discrimination or harassment. This number increases significantly to half of non-binary people (52 per cent)
In addition, feedback from our young people highlights similar concerns:
“Outside of school – I went in for an interview, introduced myself as [name] – and was then purposely called by my deadname. It felt awful”
While pronouns are not the answer to these problems, it is a powerful first step in addressing and acknowledging the inequalities and discrimination faced by this community, and is a signal of ally-ship, support and safety for those who face erasure and marginalisation in so many areas of their lives.
How to use pronouns practically
Below are some simple ways to include pronouns into a work setting, particularly when working with young people, but are also relevant in your everyday life. They are good starting points to demonstrate allyship and a positive step towards inclusion:
- Including pronouns in email signatures / zoom or team name captions / introducing at the start of sessions / when you meet people can help others to be able to freely and authentically express themselves to us.
- Just because you’ve asked for pronouns once, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask again, especially in group sessions – build this in and make it a norm of your practice – not all young people will feel safe to be authentic the first time you ask.
- Acknowledge that it can be hard to change the ‘hard wired’ part of your brain around pronouns. To help with this, try using the person’s name directly when referring to them, as this can help re-set the default ‘he/she’ and avoid that awkward sensation of stumbling over a pronoun.
- Make sure your colleagues understand how important it is to try to get people’s pronouns right – but remember that everyone makes mistakes sometimes – the important thing is to notice and correct yourself.
- Be an ally to colleagues, volunteers and young people by giving gentle reminders and prompts to other staff, volunteers and young people who are using incorrect pronouns, helping them to be better allies.
- Remember that not all young people will know what pronouns they want to use, and that some young people might not feel safe to express themselves authentically around certain people / environments and be sensitive to this.
- Have open, respectful and transparent conversations with young people if they have expressed their chosen names and pronouns, but you are subsequently required to use their birthname / deadname on a legal document.
The impact at YMCA DownsLink Group of Inclusion
“Everything so far has been amazing and would really recommend that if you need accommodation pick YMCA because they have been so supportive and accepting. Shout out to [my project worker] who has been amazing – I haven’t legally changed my name yet, but I have always been referred to with correct name and pronouns and when slip-ups happen the staff correct themselves”.
While we think it is important to highlight and acknowledge the discrimination faced within the LGBTQU+ community, unlike most films and tales of Queer existence, this tale will end on a positive.
Our organisation, YMCA DownsLink Group, continues to take steps towards addressing these issues and to demonstrate and live our values; we welcome all, we support all and we inspire all. Below are some impact statements from the young people we work with:
- Counselling specific feedback – Young people have expressed feeling seen and supported when their gender identity has been respected, this can create a sense of safety to be fully themselves and not feel judged – it is important that Trans / Non-Binary (TNB+) staff can also feel valued.
- “I had a CAMHS Art Therapist who was very supportive and introduced herself with her pronouns – making it normal and easy for me to introduce myself. They had gender neutral toilets as standard as well.”
- “One of my friends went to a Sexual Health Clinic and they made no assumptions about her gender and gave her flyers that covered everything.”
- “I would hope that when introducing yourself to a young person that saying your preferred pronouns becomes a standard ‘normal’ part of conversation in the future”.
- “Stating your own pronouns in your email signature and when you introduce yourself to people can be a simple and clear signal to others that you support trans and queer people. This is invaluable in creating a safe and welcoming space for young people and professionals alike.”
If you would like to read more around this subject, below are some recommendations from YMCA DownsLink Group staff/volunteers and young people:
- Diversify by June Sarpong- This book has had a very profound impact on my personal awareness of otherness in its many forms. Its informative and well researched, with exercises and recommendations for articles and films.
- REBEL IDEAS: The power of diverse thinking - Where do the best ideas come from? And how do we apply these ideas to the problems we face – at work, in the education of our children, and in the biggest shared challenges of our age: rising obesity, terrorism and climate change? In this bold and inspiring new book, Matthew Syed – bestselling author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking – argues that individual intelligence is no longer enough; that the only way to tackle these complex problems is to harness the power of ‘cognitive diversity.
- The Power of Bias and How to Disrupt It in Our Children (with Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt) Dr. Jennifer Eberhart, author of the best-selling book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, joins Janet to discuss how racial bias develops in the brain and creates disparities in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and the criminal justice system.
- Queer: A Graphic History – Meg-John Barker & Julia Scheele
- Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice: Whats Law got to do with it?
- To My Trans Sister – Charlie Craggs
- Sister Outsider – Audre Lourde
- Life Isn’t Binary – Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi
- Coming Out: Emerging Identities – Jeffery Weeks
- The Celluloid Closest – Vito Russell
- Queer Intentions – Amelia Abraham
- In Their Shoes – Jamie Windust
- The Twilight of Equality – Lisa Duggan
- The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
- Girl, Women, Other – Bernadine Evaristo
- Seeing Gender – Iris Gottlieb
- Redefining Realness – Janet Mock