We have been contacted by many members recently asking what to do about the fact that their employer has asked them to declare their preferred gender pronouns, usually below their name at the bottom of an email or official correspondence. Consequently, we thought it would be useful to pull together some FAQs on this issue. In case there are any terms you do not understand we have included a short glossary at the end.
Controversies over pronoun use are part of a wider public debate about transgender identity. This debate touches on issues such as women’s sex-based rights, how doctors and other medical professionals should respond to adolescents presenting with gender dysphoria and whether it is fair for transwomen athletes to compete against biological women in women’s sports. Some people think that using a trans person’s preferred pronouns, or telling people what your preferred pronouns are, is tantamount to taking a pro-trans position. For this reason the subject of pronouns, while seemingly trivial, is deeply controversial.
Some trans people and lobby groups claiming to represent them – like Stonewall, Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence – believe that ‘deadnaming’ or ‘misgendering’ a transgender person, or failing to use their preferred pronouns, can be actively harmful because it invalidates or fails to acknowledge their true ‘gender identity’. One argument for making workplace gender declarations common practice when introducing yourself or corresponding with someone by email is that it makes it less likely that a person will inadvertently ‘harm’ a trans person in this way.
Many businesses and employers, prompted by organisations like Stonewall, have introduced policies and practices designed to better support trans and non-binary employees. Some of these initiatives have been in line with equalities legislation, such as the provision of medical leave for employees undergoing gender reassignment. However, some workplace policies relating to pronoun declarations are, we believe, in breach of people’s speech rights.
The Free Speech Union supports the rights of those individuals who voluntarily choose to declare their gender pronouns at work AND the rights of those who choose not to. If you are facing pressure at work to declare your preferred gender pronouns, here’s what you need to know.
What do workplace pronoun declarations have to do with free speech?
For some people, declaring, or not declaring, your preferred pronouns has come to symbolise the position the speaker takes on the political debate about gender identity. Among our members, we’ve found it common for them to be perfectly at ease with using a trans person’s preferred pronouns, regarding it as a matter of simple politeness, but they draw the line at compelling people to do this and do not want to make a public declaration of their preferred pronouns because they think that would be tantamount to affirming the validity of gender identity ideology.…