LGBT+ History Month: Pronouns

Collaboratively written by:
Allán Laville, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion  

Alina Tryfonidou, LGBT+ Staff Network Co-Chair 
Ruvi Ziegler, LGBT+ Staff Network Co-Chair  
Gemma Fitz, LGBT+ Staff Network Lead Ally 
Nozomi Tolworthy, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor 
Hatty Taylor, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor  
Lennox Bruwer, RUSU Transgender Students Officer 

 

 

 

Pronouns

Words we use to refer to people’s gender in conversation – for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’. Some people may prefer others to refer to them in gender neutral language and use pronouns such as they/their and ze/zir. 

(Stonewall Glossary of Terms) 

 

In February 2019, we launched Pronoun Badges across the University of Reading for all staff and students to pick up for free. This was a collaborative project between UoR’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, the central D&I Team and RUSU. The aim of creating pronoun badges and distributing them across campuses was to start creating positive cultural change across our UoR community.  

However, over the last year, we’ve all been working more digitally and less on campus, or at least, around each other in person. As we’ve been communicating with each other more online, we may have noticed more people including their pronouns on their social media profiles and email signatures instead. Afterall, we’re not wearing our lanyards whilst on Teams! 

But why are people doing this and why is it important?  

 

 

Why Are Pronouns Important?

We initially wrote about the importance of pronouns in our blog piece back in February 2019 – Pronoun Badges at the University of Reading. 

We want our trans and non-binary colleagues and students to know, as well as our cisgender colleagues and students, that we not only support but encourage their expression of their gender identity. We want to recognise and respect the entire spectrum of gender and do all that we can to represent and celebrate the diverse community of identities that we have at Reading. 

We’re also more likely to be meeting colleagues and students online now. As such, by including our pronouns in our digital presence, such as in our email signature, we are able to quickly and easily self-identify and indicate to the people we are talking to the correct pronoun to use when referring to ourselves 

When pronouns are clearly displayed alongside our name, we can all challenge immediate assumptions that might be made about gender. Assumptions might be made based on physical appearance, the spelling of our names and sometimes perhaps even based on our job role. This can lead to misgendering.    

For many people, worrying about which pronoun others use to address them might not have ever been a problem. Not everybody has this privilege of a visible gender identity. When referred to someone with the wrong pronoun, an individual can feel disrespected, invalidated, and alienated. Similar to when another person might consistently pronounce or spell your name incorrectly. These are significant elements of our identities and so are important to get right. Inclusion is key in making us all feel psychologically safe at work and consequently, be able to be our authentic self.  

Our everyday language is rife with gender associations, and this may go unnoticed if you have never given much thought to your own gender identity or expression. For someone who has experienced any incongruence with the gender assigned to them at birth, the language we use can be a daily reminder of their struggle. Try to spot times in your language where you are making assumptions about gender. For example, rather than using “he or she” when talking about a hypothetical situation, substitute “they.” 

We can’t tell what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. Knowing and using the correct pronouns for someone is a positive way for us to support the people we work with. It also makes our working and learning environment more comfortable and safer for everyone.  

By taking a small and simple step such as including our pronouns in our email signatures, we can show that we care about and respect the people we work with and move towards becoming a more inclusive organisation.  

 

 

“As a trans person, it can be disheartening to be the only person in your network including your pronouns in your email signature, and many of us avoid sharing our pronouns, and can endure misgendering as a result. When I see my peers and colleagues sharing their own pronouns in their email signatures, the act feels normalised, and I feel safer to share my own pronouns.” 

Lennox Bruwer, RUSU Transgender Students Officer 

 

 

 

Allyship

One of the most important aspects of being an ally is visibility. By showing your support and being proactive, you are helping to create a safe and inclusive space for our LGBT+ community. Stating your own pronoun preferences in your email signatures and other digital resources helps by making this become standard practice and encourages our LGBT+ staff and students to feel comfortable and confident doing the same.   

 

“As an ally, I have found it very useful for everyone to state their own pronouns when introducing themselves within a meeting. I first saw this approach being used in the Stonewall events and meetings that I have attended, and I think this is best practice.” 

Allán Laville, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion  

 

 

FAQs 

How do I ask someone what their pronouns are?  

If you are being introduced to someone, you can start by stating your own pronouns. This helps by giving them the opportunity to share theirs too but also lets them know they are talking to an ally.  

You can ask someone what their pronouns are, or how they like to be referred to, in the same way you would ask someone their name. Also, listen and follow their lead on how they refer to themselves. It is always better to ask rather than assume or guess, however remember that not everyone may want to share their pronouns. If this is the case, do not press the matter and use neutral pronouns such as them/they. Neutral pronouns should also be used in situations where it is not appropriate to ask or if you are in doubt.   

 

What do I do if I use the wrong pronoun for someone?  

Do not panic or make it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. Quickly apologise, correct yourself and move on. We all slip up sometimes, out of habit or forgetfulness, the important thing is to show you are genuinely making an effort to use the correct pronouns and that you apologise when you get it wrong.  

 

 

 

Further Resources

For more information on LGBT History Month www.lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk 

10 ways to step up as an ally to non-binary people – Stonewall Staff  

Talking about pronouns in the workplace – Human Rights Campaign Foundation  

Pronouns 101: Why They matter and What To Do (and Not Do) If You Misgender Someone – Kay Martinez  

 

 

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