Language of Inclusion
International Observance Promotes Pronouns for All
As Schoolhouse Rock’s Rufus Xavier Sarsasparilla discovered, a world where you always call everybody and everything by its actual name “can really wear you down.” Pronouns like “he,” “she,” “they” and others save time and trouble.
But when the words are misdirected—especially when they lump people with genders they don’t identify with—they can hurt.
“When you call people by the wrong pronouns, it produces anxiety,” said Shige Sakurai, LGBT Equity Center associate director. But studies also show that respecting the identities that work best for individuals promotes better mental health, they (a gender-neutral pronoun Sakurai uses) said.
Today is the inaugural International Pronouns Day, founded by Sakurai and picked up by groups and institutions around the nation and the world; the day celebrates all identities and seeks to make the respecting, sharing and asking of pronouns commonplace.
The observance builds on the student-led Pronouns Pronouncement Day, which launched on campus in Fall 2016.
More than 300 groups, including over 125 college offices and organizations, have endorsed International Pronouns Day. Supporters ranged from the Brooklyn Community Pride Center to Planned Parenthood offices in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Utah.
Individuals who are not part of endorser organizations can participate on social media, using the #PronounsDay hashtag and posting about their pronouns on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Many of these groups are conducting activities in honor of the day, such as hosting meet-and-greets where sharing pronouns is encouraged, as well as distributing informational cards that raise awareness about identity.
At Maryland, the Division of Student Affairs, LGBT Equity Center, Rainbow Terps Network and Trans Terp Campaign will hold a panel discussion at noon today in the Stamp Student Union to discuss how communities can recognize and respect people’s pronouns.
Chase Oatis, a graduate assistant for diversity and inclusion in the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life, hopes sharing their experience with identifying as transgender will raise awareness about the dangers of misgendering.
“Using correct pronouns…shows that you see me and you understand me,” said Oatis, who is speaking at today’s panel. “Misgendering somebody can be seen just a simple mistake, but it really is a microaggression that’s built up time after time.”
Sakurai said they’re trying to get people to think about how harmful assumptions are so deeply embedded in our day-to-day language.
“For me personally, International Pronouns Day is also about making sure that people have more tools and information and awareness,” they said.
The movement addresses a real psychological need, they said. A University of Texas-Austin study published earlier this year that interviewed transgender adolescents showed depression and suicide rates decrease when they can express and be affirmed in their identity in places like work, school and home.
“I hope that people will learn something and will do things to create more inclusive behaviors to create more welcoming, empowering communities, campuses, workplaces,” Sakurai said.