Guide to Understanding Gender Pronouns of LGBTQ+ Students
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.
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 ____.
|[Person's Name]||[Name]||[Name]'s||[Name]'s||[Name]'s self|
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
- Ensures Effective Communication: Knowing others' pronouns is just as important as knowing their names in order to communicate. Overlooking someone's pronouns can disrupt communication by heightening the chances of making mistakes. Incorrect information can be distracting or impact someone's willingness to engage in conversation.
- Asserts That LGBTQ+ People Are Welcome: Using someone's pronouns sends a clear message that they are important and valued. When it's commonplace to ask, offer, and use everyone's pronouns, a culture of care that promotes a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people can be established.
- Creates Visibility for LGBTQ+ People: An environment that supports sharing and using pronouns can help LGBTQ+ people connect with one another. Pronoun sharing creates space for others to be open about being LGBTQ+ and can establish common ground for those in the space who use similar pronouns.
- Enhances LGBTQ+ People's Mental Wellness: When LGBTQ+ people are addressed by the correct pronouns, it increases their self-worth and decreases thoughts of self-harm. It is distracting, disheartening, and difficult to engage in spaces that do not promote the correct usage of people's pronouns.
- It's Just Plain Rude to Refuse: It costs nothing to use LGBTQ+ people's correct pronouns. Refusing to do so requires more energy than being supportive and affirming. Claiming that using someone's pronouns is inconvenient sends a message to LGBTQ+ people that it's not worth getting correct.
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
- International Pronouns Day: Started in 2018, this day "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." This day is observed on the third Wednesday of each year.
- LGBT Life Center: This community-focused organization is committed to empowering LGBTQ+ communities. This organization created an informative video on what to do when making a mistake about someone's pronouns.
- Minus18: This Australia-based organization focuses on centering LGBTQ+ youth. It also developed an interactive pronoun practice game.
- University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's LGBTQ+ Resource Center: This center incorporates a how-to guide among it's pronoun resources. This guide can be printed as a small card for easy reference.