Celebrating Use of Chosen Personal Pronouns

The third Wednesday in October (this year October 20th) marks International Pronouns Day. On this day, people are reminded to make respecting, sharing, and educating about the appropriate use of personal pronouns more commonplace. Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity, but many transgender and gender nonconforming people are regularly called by the wrong pronouns, which causes erasure and marginalization.

Everyone has the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity, including the use of nonbinary or neutral pronouns (for instance, they/them). Research has shown that referring to people in the ways they wish to be referred to has positive health effects for trans people.

Trans and gender nonconforming people, especially those whose gender is or is perceived to be outside of the man/woman binary, are sometimes harassed and treated with hostility. This is often demonstrated by intentional or repeated use of the wrong pronouns. In 2018, actor Laverne Cox (she) wrote, “Misgendering a trans person is an act of violence… I am referring to cultural and structural violence.”

Humanists understand that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. That’s why the American Humanist Association (AHA) was at the forefront of this project, when the organization signed on as a co-sponsor of Pronouns Day several years ago. At that time, AHA staff members all added their pronouns to their email signatures with a link to a document called Understanding Personal Pronouns and Why the American Humanist Association Proactively Discloses Them. As the document explains, “We disclose our third-person pronouns so that people who communicate with or talk about us can use pronouns that accurately describe us, and to help normalize the practice. We encourage people who engage with us to do the same.”

Crystal Huff (they), co-chair of International Pronouns Day’s Executive Board, said,

As groups conduct meetings online during the pandemic, there are more ways we can easily support people by using the right pronouns and avoiding assumptions. One simple way to break the cycle of assumptions is to include pronouns in our email signature, and to put pronouns after our display name when we go into video meetings. Organizational leaders can really set the tone by sending out instructions on how to do this. Inclusion doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require that people take the steps to engage and learn.

Check out #PronounsDay on social media or MyPronouns.org to learn more and find out how people from across the US and around the world celebrated the day.