Fostering Gender Identity Inclusion through Written and Spoken Communications

csaetrillium1nov142019Noah Reid, Coordinator of Pride Western, Western University

Heather Reid, Founder & CEO, Planner Protect Inc


“INCLUSION is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group is welcomed, respected, supported and valued.  An inclusive environment embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people. It provides the support needed for all people to participate fully.” MPI Inclusive Event Design Manual

Creating inclusion means being deliberately aware, respectful and accommodating of the dimensions of human diversity such as age, gender identity, socio-economic status, disability, race, sobriety, religion and much, much more.

This article focuses on fostering gender identity inclusion specific to trans and non-binary individuals through written and spoken communications, while recognizing that experiences and preferences vary greatly and within different intersections of identity.  It should also be recognized that while this article covers some important considerations, true inclusion requires thorough consultation with community members and local organizations.


Written Communications:

A common source of trans and non-binary exclusionary behavior manifests in our written language. When communicating though written word, we must carefully consider our language so that we include and respect the diverse recipients of our words.  Here are some key considerations and tips when creating copy for advertising, surveys, registration forms, training manuals, websites or mass written communications:

Gender inclusive language:

  • Avoid phrases or words that are unnecessarily gendered
    • Rather than “the best man for the job” use “the best candidate for the job”
    • Rather than “chairman” use “chairperson
    • If you are unsure if your language is gendered, google it, or ask a local organization!
  • Incorporate gender-neutral pronouns “they/them/theirs” instead of using gender-specific pronouns “she/her/hers” and “he/him/his”
    • Rather than using “each attendee decides his or her own education sessions” use “each attendee decides their own education sessions”


  • Only providing gendered honorifics, Mr., Mrs., or Ms. etc., may exclude those who identify as non-binary or transgender. Be sure to include gender neutral honorifics such as “Mx” or “Ind” or “M”
  • Consider using a fillable text box, rather than a predefined list, when requesting honorifics information

Pronoun Identification:

  • In direct communications, default to using “they/them/theirs” unless pronouns have been specifically identified by the individual. If you are uncertain or don’t know, ask!
    • Encourage colleagues to include their pronouns in email signatures, contact pages or other reciprocal forms of communications
    • When name badges are being used for staff in workplaces or staff, volunteers and attendees at events, include pronouns
      • Request an individual’s consent before putting their pronouns on display; in different situations one’s use of pronoun may be discretionary due to safety concerns
      • Self-select options, such as pronoun ribbons, are also an option for events if pronoun data is not collected in registration

Demographic Information:

  • When collecting demographic information, it is important to realize there is a difference between gender and sex
    • What are you trying to ask?
    • More importantly why do you need that information? If you don’t NEED it, don’t ask for it
  • If you need demographic data on gender, use inclusive language such as:
    • Please provide your gender:
      • Woman
      • Non-binary
      • Man
    • Avoid “other” options; if necessary, provide a fillable “not-listed” option
  • If you need demographic data on sex, consult with a local organization to ensure it is done with proper language and specific questions
  • Be transparent about why you are collecting this information, what it could be used for and if/how it will be disclosed
  • Don’t use the phrase “preferred pronouns”, they’re just pronouns.
  • This can all be very hard to navigate and dependent on your specific situation. Reach out to local community groups and ask! Set aside some budget for consultation.


Spoken Communications:

Opportunities to address individuals or groups “live and in person” are a privilege.  It is our responsibility to extend the spirit of inclusion in each encounter by ensuring our spoken words respect trans and non-binary individuals.  Making conscious efforts to reflect gender identity diversity with our spoken words is essential.

  • Create guidelines for appropriate and inclusive language for “in person” encounters
    • Rather than using “good evening ladies and gentlemen” consider using “good evening honoured guests” or “good morning folks” or “good evening everyone”
    • Rather than using “sir in the red shirt” use “person in the red shirt”
    • Rather than assuming “he” or “she” pronouns use “they” in both singular and plural contexts
  • Review pre-written event scripts and greetings to ensure inclusive and gender-neutral language has been integrated
  • Ensure event speakers are debriefed about your expectations of their use of inclusive language
  • Scrutinize outsourced emcees and entertainers for their ability to spontaneously use inclusive language
  • Require outward facing positions (such as event staff, volunteers, receptionists and public relations personnel etc.) to be trained not to assume an individual’s gender or pronouns
    • Rather than saying “how are we doing today ladies?” replace with “how are we doing today folks?”
    • Instead of saying “the ladies’ room is over there” use “the washrooms are over there”
  • Provide new and long-standing employees/event staff/volunteers with appropriate and ongoing training
  • Practice, practice, practice – changing one’s spoken vernacular takes effort, thought and time. Provide opportunities to role play introductions, greetings, group interactions etc.
  • Promote a culture of inclusion within organizations and teams by addressing the need for, and expecting the use of, inclusive language…from the top down and the bottom up


Creating inclusion for trans and non-binary people, at events and in workplaces, requires thoughtful, purposeful and respectful written and spoken communications.  Though the above considerations can help set an organization on the right path, the importance of having discussions, consultations and ongoing training with informed communities and resource organizations cannot be understated.