Guide to Understanding Gender Pronouns of LGBTQ+ Students

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portrait of R.B. Brooks, M.Ed.
By R.B. Brooks, M.Ed.

Published on September 17, 2021

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According to The Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 1 in 4 youth (ages 13-24) go by pronouns other than he/him or she/her. For transgender and nonbinary youth, being referred to by the correct name and pronouns is a simple gesture of support.

Pronouns are necessary for communicating with and about each other. Someone's pronouns are more than preferred — they should be viewed as mandatory. Just like getting someone's name right shows care and appreciation, using someone's pronouns is a sign of valuing that person and your relationship with them.

Not all LGBTQ+ people change their pronouns. However, all LGBTQ+ people are impacted by stereotypes and assumptions about gender, which can result in harassment or miscommunication. Normalizing sharing and asking about pronouns helps create pathways for other considerations on how to be inclusive of trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people.

Putting Personal Pronouns Into Practice

An individual's pronouns are based on what is most comfortable and affirming for them. Some people use multiple sets of pronouns.

It's important not to assume someone's pronouns. Make it a habit to ask people what pronouns they use. This can be done during introductions when first meeting someone.

When unsure about someone's pronouns, defaulting to they/them is okay until it's possible to ask that person what pronouns they use. Mispronouning, which means to use the wrong pronouns for someone, is disrespectful.

There is not a direct link between one set of pronouns and a gender identity. Even the traditionally gendered pronouns he and she don't automatically indicate someone's gender. For example, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people may use he/him and she/her pronouns. This is why it is not accurate to say someone uses "male/female" or "feminine/mascluine" pronouns.

The table below provides a list of commonly used pronouns. This is not an exhaustive list and focuses on American English pronouns. This table also provides examples of how to use each pronoun in a sentence. Use this tool for practicing pronouns that may be less familiar.

Common Pronouns and How to Use Them

Example of use:

____ went to the store.

Example of use:

Give this book to ___.

Example of use:

Do you have ____ number?

Example of use:

I am a friend of ___.

Example of use:

The teacher introduced ____.

They Them Their Theirs Themself
She Her Her Hers Herself
Ze/Zie Zir Zir Zirs Zirself
He Him His His Himself
Ze/Zie Hir Hir Hirs Hirself
Per Per Pers Pers Perself
E/Ey Em Eir Eirs Eirself
[Person's Name] [Name] [Name]'s [Name]'s [Name]'s self
It It Its It Itself

Gender pronouns allow a person to express their identity. They give people the space to choose for themselves how they would like to be identified.

Why It Is Important to Use Personal Pronouns

Using Gender Pronouns for Equity and Inclusion

Tip #1 - Acknowledge Mispronouning and Misgendering

Being addressed incorrectly can be painful, especially when these mistakes are ignored. If you do misspeak, acknowledge the mistake, apologize in the moment, and move on. Check in with that person later to see if there's anything else you can do.

Tip #2 - Display Pronouns Wherever Possible

Including pronouns in email signatures, business cards, door hangings, and online display names are a few examples of how to normalize sharing pronouns. Placing pronouns in visible places invites others to share pronouns in ways beyond introductions.

Tip #3 - Challenge Assumptions Based in Privilege

ost spaces prioritize cisgender and hetrosexual people. Being attentive to how this shows up in shared spaces and addressing language, policies, programs, and experiences that uphold these privileged identities can break barriers to LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Tip #4 - Avoid Needlessly Gendered Language

Gendered language can exclude LGBTQ+ people — especially trans and nonbinary indiviuals. There are often easy alternatives for gendered language, such as using "sibling'' instead of "brother or sister'' or "parent'' instead of "mother or father."

Tip #5 - Be Precise About a Space's Purpose

If it isn't clear that LGBTQ+ students are included in a space, they probably won't show up. Crafting spaces that express the explicit purpose of the space can help clarify what to expect when attending an event or accessing a service.

Additional Educational Resources

Explore common experiences and challenges of LGBTQ+ college students and learn how you can ensure your campus supports and affirms LGBTQ+ students. Read this comprehensive guide for parents and families and learn how you can support and be in solidarity with your LGBTQ+ college student. Academic institutions continue to take steps to create environments and policies that meet the needs of students with LGBTQ+ identities. Here are the top-ranked schools.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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