Over the summer, many staff members began conversations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion of students and staff members of all backgrounds. These discussions included ideas about how to support numerous minority groups. They touched on ways to be an ally to one group in particular: transgender students.
As a result of these conversations, some teachers began asking for students’ pronoun preferences on their getting-to-know-you surveys at the beginning of the school year for the first time. Asking whether students prefer to be referred to as she/her, he/him or they/them gave teachers the opportunity to use the correct pronouns and support students whose gender identities do not match up with school records.
“Including pronouns in that survey normalizes the idea that there is going to be a range of pronouns used in the classroom,” Gender & Sexuality Alliance sponsor Kurt Wagner said. “It creates a safe space. There are teachers in our building who don’t even realize how much of a safe space they’ve created by doing so.”
Officer Taylor Franzen is currently working on a training program to inform the BG police department about similar LGBT issues. She plans to explain the history between law enforcement and the LGBT community, statistics and scenarios such as identifying transgender people when their name doesn’t match the name on their driver’s license. She hopes to present at the department’s next annual training.
“There is a lot of damage that law enforcement has done in the past,” she said. “Even if we can’t fix what has been done, we need to do better from now on. I think training on these topics could play a part in that.”
Franzen taught a similar training during her past employment at University of Illinois. She was surprised by how genuinely and respectfully people behaved in years past.
“The biggest thing I have noticed is that people are afraid of offending other people,” she said. “They kind of hit the brakes and forget how to talk. It’s just the lack of education on how to respond in these situations.”
Trainings like these can play a big role in educating people who do not know about transgender issues. Education is one of the best ways to teach people to be more accepting, sophomore Cam Straus said.
Straus identifies as non-binary. This means that they do not identify as exclusively male or female and prefer to be referred to using they/them pronouns. According to Straus, one way that people have made them feel supported is by privately asking for their pronouns rather than assuming their gender identity.
“I love it when people ask for my pronouns,” Straus said. “It makes me know that they care and want to know.”
Some people have difficulty accepting they/them as non-plural pronouns due to their past usage. But in the past decade, both Merriam-Webster Dictionary and AP Style have recognized they/them as singular pronouns for non-binary people. According to Wagner, past grammar should not be a huge issue surrounding gender identity.
“English is a very adaptable language—it changes regularly,” he said. “So what if we’re changing the way we define pronouns? Some of the best stuff about English is the stuff we change.”
Educating people about LGBT issues may be the key to a more accepting future. The conversations and trainings undergone by the English and police departments are both examples of this education. Whether in-person training or individual research, taking initiative to learn about these topics creates a safer environment for transgender people and is one of the first steps toward becoming an ally, Wagner said.
“I’ve spent so much time figuring out who I am and who I want to be, and being non-binary has been a huge part of that,” Straus said. “I think people should do some research and be nice about it.”