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Dear Educators, do your part to foster an inclusive environment by using correct pronouns

As a progressive society, I am happy to say we have become more understanding and appreciative of the various gender identities of those around us. However, there is so much more to be done and there is still a great debate regarding the use of pronouns. Using a person’s correct pronouns is an easy way to foster an inclusive environment and affirm a person’s gender identity. The traditional binary he/him and she/her pronouns can often leave many people out, forcing them to check a box they don’t fit into. 

By using a person’s correct pronouns, they feel respected and we do our part as allies to reduce the adverse effects of social oppression the LGBTQ+ community faces. Using the wrong pronouns can be harmful to one’s mental health. In fact, a 2016 study, The role of gender affirmation in psychological well-being among transgender women, concluded that using a person’s correct pronouns and therefore affirming their gender, lowers depression and raises self-esteem.

It is unfortunate that there is a debate over gender pronouns in school; transgender and nonbinary students are urging educators to use inclusive language, but not everyone is on board. We are sadly hearing of many instances where teachers and trans students are clashing over their basic rights. In 2019, The Times covered the story of Aidyn Sucec, the then sixteen year old transgender boy whose anxiety and depression finally eased when his family and friends embraced the teenager by using he/him pronouns. Aidyn’s parents were incredibly supportive, so much so that his mother ensured that Brownsburg High School in Indiana logged his new name and gender into their database before he started school there. While the school was happy to respect Aidyn’s identity as well as other trans students by allowing them to use bathrooms, names and pronouns aligned with their gender identity, one music teacher resisted. John Kluge filed a federal lawsuit against the high school after it forced him to resign claiming, “it is sinful to promote transgender behaviour.” The Times went on to report that there were more even pending cases against public schools by teachers who were disciplined for refusing to use preferred names or pronouns.

Alia Cusolito, a sophomore at Old Rochester Regional High School in Massachusetts attended their first day of school wearing a pin with “they/them” on their shirt and their backpack. This was Alia’s plea for respect; they wanted their teachers and peers to acknowledge their preferred pronouns. Alia switched from she/her pronouns to gender-neutral ones in ninth grade expressing that “nonbinary fits me. My identity isn’t a choice.” Allison Barket, librarian at the high school and adviser to the Gender Sexuality Alliance club, in an effort to foster an inclusive environment, placed get-to-know-you forms in every teacher’s mailbox which would allow students to fill in their pronouns and preferred names. However, Alia was left disappointed when only three of their nine teachers gave students the opportunity to provide their names and pronouns. Alia felt distressed as they watched fellow nonbinary students urge teachers to not call them by their “dead name.”

In the United States, according to a 2017 study, an estimated 150,000 teens identify as transgender. As this number continues to grow, it is paramount that schools support their trans students, protecting them from harassment, bullying and violence. According to GLSEN, an organisation with a mission to ensure that LGBTQ+ students are offered the same opportunities to learn and grow in a safe school environment, noted that seventy five percent of trans students feel unsafe at school. “Simply respecting a student’s chosen name and pronouns is the single most important thing you can do to prevent suicide and mental health issues,” says Kimm Topping, program manager of Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ+ students.

Amherst College professor Jen Manion, in a Massachusetts hearing on House and Senate bills, called on schools to include an LGBTQ+ curriculum and to allow students to be called what they want to be called. Manion says “there’s so much evidence that homophobia, transphobia- this kind of censorship and hostility- causes an incredible amount of harm to LGBTQ+ young people.”

Erin Cross, the Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, and Amy Hillier, a professor at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice, penned a few ideas on how educators can be more inclusive. They advised avoiding gendered language such as “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen” and use “folks” or “everyone” instead. If you are unsure of someone’s pronouns, simply use nonbinary they/them pronouns. Should you make an honest mistake and misgender a student, apologise and correct yourself. Correct colleagues and other students who you see/hear using wrong pronouns and look out for your students who may be facing gender discrimination. In 2019, Brighton schools gave out pronoun stickers to students, supporting transgender children.

We need schools to respect pronouns in the classroom. There are many times when students don’t feel comfortable, or safe, to express who they really are. Educators are in the position to help students be themselves. It’s as simple as telling your students that you respect people of all gender identities. By doing this, you are telling them “it’s okay to be you.” Schools are where we truly become ourselves, it is our foundation and moulds us to enter the real world. Schools are the first place a person should feel safe to be themselves and brave to enter the world as who they really are. 

We are in 2022, it’s about time every single human existing on Earth feels comfortable, safe and free. It is important to share one’s own pronouns and ask people which pronouns they prefer in order to foster an inclusive environment. Being misgendered and/or misnamed can leave a person feeling disrespected, invalidated and depressed. Using the correct pronoun is easy to do and can contribute to better mental health and less deaths from suicide.

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