Using preferred names and pronouns literally saves lives!
According to The Trevor Project – the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth – young people whose pronouns are respected by all or most of the people in their life attempt suicide at ½ the rate of those who do not have their names and pronouns respected. (The Trevor Project, 2021). 25% of Maine’s transgender high school students have attempted suicide in the past year (MIYHS, 2021). It is crucial that we do anything and everything we can to reduce these numbers. Using the correct name and pronouns for someone is effective suicide prevention.
1. Is it ok to share the youth’s name/pronouns?
So what do you do if you hear someone misgender a child? Before acting, first note if the youth is out about their identity to the person who has misgendered them. If the youth is not out, sharing their pronouns can put them at risk. Even well-intentioned actions like sharing someone’s pronouns without their consent can have harmful consequences. If you do not know if the youth is out, do not correct the person. Talk to the youth as soon as possible about what they would like you to do in future situations. You can say something like: “I heard Mr X use he/him pronouns for you today. Do you know if he knows what your pronouns are, and would you like me to correct him in the future?”
2. If so, gently correct them.
If the person who has misgendered the child knows the correct pronouns, gently correct them. Assume best intentions and that the person just forgot or made a mistake, which is ok! “Robin uses they/them pronouns” should suffice. Ideally, correct them in the moment so that others can learn as well. If that is not safe or appropriate in the setting you are in, bring it up in a private setting.
3. Pushback? Give them the facts!
If you receive push back or hear a commitment to misgendering, share the statistics from the beginning of this article about the importance of pronouns. “Did you know that transgender youth have the highest rates of suicide of any demographic, and that using the correct name and pronoun for them reduces suicide attempts by 50%?” “Using the pronouns someone has asked you to use shows them a baseline level of respect that all people deserve,” If they are willing to have a conversation with you about it, share some of the articles in our resource library.
4. Know the youth’s rights and stand up for them.
Anyone who works in a public school in Maine is governed by the Maine Anti-Discrimination law. The Maine Human Rights Commission issued a clear memo noting that the refusal to use the name or pronoun a student has asked the school to use is considered discrimination and is illegal. If in a school setting, report the concerns to the administration. Simply state what you observed. If the administration does not address the issue, file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission by filling out an online form or give them a call.
YOU make a difference in youth lives!
Intervening when someone uses the wrong name or pronoun is a small but crucial step in being an ally. It can feel daunting at first, but gets easier with practice. The more individuals who advocate for the basic needs of transgender youth, the easier it will be to BE a transgender youth!