Happy Pride Month! What was once an American focused annual awareness month, has in recent years become Internationally recognised with Pride events, marches and festivals happening both during the month and equally, like in the UK happening across many other months too in line with turning points of that country’s LGBTQIA+ history.

Pride Month is all about so many things – LGBTQIA+ visibility, allyship, hope, commemoration, celebration, equality, inclusivity, self-affirmation, identity, protests, parties and parades. It also about remembering The Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the queer community in response to the raid by police in a New York gay bar in June 1969. Raids were common in suspected LGBTQIA+ bars and clubs (venues couldn’t be openly queer safe spaces back then) and the police targeted them often, harassed patrons, arrested them and created an ethos of social discrimination. In fact, openly queer people, hanging out in groups in any circumstance was classed as “disorderly conduct” by American police.

These riots led to a gradual move towards LGBTQIA+ rights and whilst it didn’t start LGBTQIA+ activism, it certainly galvanised people to push for change collectively. A year later, in 1970, in June thousands of people marched in the streets of Manhattan from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in America’s first gay pride parade.

I mention the above for context, as firstly, I sometimes think the true meaning of Pride can be a little lost on some people and secondly, it is about so much more than a month of rainbows. It has passion, purpose and protest at heart.

And I wanted to use Pride month and this blog, as an opportunity to touch on Pronouns. You may have seen progressively more and more people in their emails, on Zoom, on social media etc – have their pronouns presents visibly i.e: he/him, she/her, they/them or in another way that person identifies as. Now you may already be doing this and that’s great….I certainly am! (I’m she/her by the way!)

But I’ve sat in plenty of business meetings and spaces, where it has been discussed and labelled as virtue signalling or symptomatic of “the woke liberal agenda”. You only have to go to the Daily Mail online comments on an article of someone openly stating their gender identity to see how some people feel on the matter.

I want to caveat that, it is ok to not understand gender, to not really “get the pronoun thing” and to be curious about it. Understanding happens through questioning. But it is not ok, to shut down someone’s right to be themselves and to place your normative views on to someone else.

I wanted to use this blog as space to invite businesses to reflect on their Trans allyship and why I think recognising pronouns is the right thing to do and good for business. So, let me get to why as a cis-gendered person, think it is important for me to have my pronouns visible and why it is important in a business context.

Let’s get to it!

  • Your pronouns are an expression of your gender, not your biological sex. Gender is a social construct, that we invented. We created the binary and we can dismantle it. Like everything, society is evolving, so is language and social and societal norms. People creating spaces for people to disclose their gender and/or making their pronouns visible, is going to become a new norm and is representative of our evolution as a society.
  • In business we are all about tailoring interactions, to get the best out of them…we understand that, that in business it isn’t about what is important to us, it is about what is important to the customer/client and gaining a deeper level of understanding. If I’m going to pitch to a client and I know they LOVE golf, you bet that I’m going to do some learning around golf to drop that into conversation. Because, during that interaction, I want the client to feel comfortable, welcome, find common ground, that I respect them and get them in order, to develop a positive relationship and secure the work. If I didn’t do the research to understand what is important to the client beforehand, then I’m missing a trick – golf isn’t important to me, but it is important to them and I can use it positively to my advantage. So, the same theme applies with pronouns…..I hear folx say “I don’t get it…I’m not going to start using they/them, just because they want me to”. Well, I push back on that fixed mindset and champion, that in business we’re supposed to be all about managing change, responding to new needs and what is important to others, tailoring our interactions etc and so, this is just the same thing. Things have changed (Trans and gender fluid folx are more visible in our society), folx need us to be more inclusive with our language, pronouns are important to them and so we tailor our interactions in order to build positive business relationships. BOOM. It is that simple.
  • It can make Trans and gender fluid people feel included, seen and it is important to them – it should also be important to you, as a fellow human. Recognising and using someone’s correct pronouns, irrespective of how they may present to you or express their gender identity visibly is super important. That’s their identity, it is part of them. By not acknowledging its importance, you’re dismissing (and missing out on!) an important part of who a person is – which doesn’t sound like a very positive thing to do. So whether a person is a client, customer, employee etc – you have the responsibility in your interactions with them (and at work if you employ them) to be inclusive, create safe spaces and acknowledge who they are.
  • Misgendering someone can be entirely devastating to a person and trigger gender dysphoria. And if you’re sitting there, thinking well, “why should I have to tell people I’m he/him when it’s obvious and I’ve never really thought about it”…..well, for many transgendered and gender fluid folx, they’ve thought about it A LOT and probably really struggled with it; when you’re speaking to someone who shares their gender identity, that person has probably been through years of confusing inner turmoil and it is a big deal. They need support, empathy and respect – respecting their pronouns is the very least you need to do and not doing this in a professional context, could mean that you are having direct impact on someone’s mental health and well-being.
  • Something that I hear often, is that there is the misplaced belief, that displaying your pronouns is a fashion trend, or a “woke” thing to do. This is often said in such an angry or dismissive way. My question, to those folx, is what is it about someone else’s gender expression, that makes them feel so uncomfortable? That is something that they have to reflect on and figure out. Secondly, it is happening….. pronoun usage is present now in the business world and is in many of my networks and LinkedIn common place….. Instagram has just launched a new pronoun feature for your bio, so…..this pronoun thing, is surely becoming more than a “trend” so you can’t just ignore it or discount it in your business and professional interactions; you have to adapt.
  • Putting your pronouns doesn’t necessarily have to be about cis-gendered folx expressing their gender identity, it can be about “normalising” doing it for everyone so those that want to feel safe to express their gender, can do so. It signals to the world, that you recognise that gender expression is important, you’re an ally and you want people to feel welcome and included in your presence. Enabling and empowering someone to express their gender, should be the end goal and celebrated.
  • It helps you in professional interactions and in business – imagine if you were dealing with an important client, supplier, customer, investor, audience member and they were non-binary (they/them). And you kept on mis-gendering them during interactions or kept using overtly gendered terms in any form of communication, I can tell you now, you won’t be getting their business or building a meaningful relationship with that person. Providing an opportunity for people to share their pronouns (if they are comfortable) and doing it as good practice, not only shows respect to Trans and gender fluid folx, it also helps you avoid misgendering someone in a professional context. In a business world, which should be all about building positive relationships and getting the most out of them, knowing someone’s pronouns is vital information, that will help in future relationship building. It is not a chore, or unnecessary (things I hear often), it is literally helping you have a positive professional interaction.
  • It’s just about being a good human being, respecting other human beings.

So if you’re reading this – this Pride month I’d like to invite you to think about what your LGBTQIA+ inclusivity policy looks like or could look like, including use of pronouns. What being a “good ally” to the queer community means in your business? And how you are ensuring that you create safe, welcoming spaces in which positive and fruitful professional interactions can occur with trans and gender fluid folx.

And it is ok to be sat there thinking….I haven’t got a clue about this at all. But you need to do something about that. I would recommend getting in touch with Curious Arts – a wonderful queer arts organisation in the North East, that is offering training and consultancy to businesses to support your learning, your evolution in supporting and engaging with LGBTQIA+ employees/clients/customers/audiences and allyship. Their training provides safe spaces to ask questions and be curious……

And once again for those at the back…. Respecting pronouns, isn’t about being woke. It’s not a trend. It’s about being a good ally which can only ever be good business.

Happy Pride Month!

Rachel Horton – The Culture Vulture and Director NIBE