Many of us work hard to be active supporters of LGBTQI+ people, but even some allies are unaware of how their inappropriate use of day-to-day language can negatively impact people of diverse sex, sexuality and gender.
Language is a significant part of how we understand and shape the world around us. The words we choose to use matter. They highlight some of the assumptions we make about people, their presentation, relationships, cultural background, abilities and age.
One thing we can do to make our language more inclusive of LGBTQI+ people is to avoid gender-specific words in digital and face-to-face interactions. Many people no longer identify themselves in binary gender terms, so when you use language that adheres to gender binaries, you reinforce the exclusion of gender-diverse people from society. Gendered language can also operate to exclude people of diverse sex and sexuality through assumptions about relationships, parenting and partnerships.
Avoiding gender-specific words and phrases is a great thing to do to ensure you are not accidentally being exclusionary.
Some simple ways to improve your inclusiveness include: instead of starting your presentation with 'welcome ladies and gentlemen', use a gender-neutral option like 'welcome everyone'; ensure you're using non-gendered language when referring to roles and careers. For example, use 'chairperson' instead of 'chairman', use 'police officer' instead of 'policeman'; question your assumptions about gender identity by using the gender-neutral term 'person' instead of 'man' or 'woman'; and when thinking about relationships, use gender-neutral options like 'child', 'parent' and 'partner'.
Correct personal pronoun use is also an important aspect of being an inclusive LGBTQI+ ally. Personal pronouns are words like 'she', 'his' and 'they'. It is best not to assume a person's preferred pronouns. Instead, a good technique is to identify and share your own pronouns through your email signature, or in person when meeting someone new. If someone shares their preferred pronouns with you, make a mental note to correctly use these in future communications.
When we start to actively examine our use of language, we find it tells us a lot about our values and what we consider to be important. For those of us who consider ourselves to be supporters of LGBTQI+ folks, making a conscious effort to use appropriate language can go a long way to ensuring we are being inclusive and enabling others to feel valued, respected and accepted.
- Dr Bri McKenzie (She/Her/Hers), history lecturer and ally, Curtin University