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She, He, They Or Ze? How To Ask Someone For Their Pronoun Politely

As more Aussie employers encourage staff to share their preferred pronoun at work, LGBTQI+ advocates say the best way to find out if you’re unsure is to ask a simple question -- what is your pronoun?

Understanding that a person may identify as non-binary and use 'they/their', 'ze/hir' or 'xe/xem' -- rather than the more common 'he/his' and 'she/her' -- is a simple, yet powerful way to support the community.

"It says that I respect something about you and it says I am going to use the pronoun or name," ACON health's manager of the Trans And Gender Diverse Health Advisory, Teddy Cook, told 10 daily.

"It invites people whose pronoun is 'they' or 'them' to be able to say it ... and lets them know they have allies in other communities."

Using correct pronouns shows support for the LGBTQI+ community. Image: Getty

ACON, a health group specialising in HIV prevention and support, has worked to normalise the use of all pronouns by giving their employees the option to include their own in their email signatures.

"The hope was that, internally and externally, we are able to start thinking about what people's pronouns might be," Cook said.

"When people use pronouns, they are generally using them to introduce someone or to talk about someone. It is very rare that we have a conversation with a person when your own pronoun is not needed."

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Cosmetic company Lush launched pronoun badges for staff to wear in 2018 as part of their Transgender Visibility campaign. All staff at the company have the option to wear a badge displaying the pronoun they use.

Lush said the badges are an easy way to stand in solidarity with transgender, non-binary and gender diverse people. The badges also try to address the issue of assumption of gender, based on someone's appearance.

Lush staff have the option of wearing a pronoun badge. Image: Facebook/LUSH UK.

"Making assumptions based on a person’s appearance can perpetuate the idea that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate their gender identity," Lush Australia and New Zealand director, Peta Granger, told 10 daily.

"This can be harmful in that it has the potential to limit freedom of expression and also imposes a culture of conditional acceptance."

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Here's What It's Like To Be Transgender In 2019

Trans Day of Remembrance is an annual observance dedicated to the memory of the trans and gender diverse community members who lost their lives in the past year.

Studies show transgender people face difficulties in areas including mental health and housing, often at the hands of discrimination from the wider community.

A study conducted by the National LGBTQI Health Alliance in 2016 found 35 percent of trans people in Australia have attempted to take their own life, while the Trans Pathways Report found transgender youth have symptoms of depression at almost 10 times that of the average young person. 

Up to 71 per cent of trans or gender-diverse people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

People in the LGBTQI+ community are discriminated against in many areas of their lives. Image: Getty.

Up to 11 per cent -- or at least 2.75 million people --  of the Australian population have a diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. Cook says this is a vital reason to normalise and acknowledge varying gender experiences.

"Ultimately, we know that there are many prejudices and discrimination towards transgender people and there are small steps that people can take that really highlight that they are allies," Cook said.

How To Ask Someone For Their Pronoun

Asking someone for their pronoun is as simple as asking the question, 'which pronoun do you use?' or 'what is your pronoun?'

"When someone is using a pronoun that you weren't expecting them to use, just use it," Cook said.

"If someone is unsure about how to refer to someone else, then just use their name, or if using their name gets overdone, then you can just use 'they' or 'them'."

Asking someone for their pronoun is easy. Image: Getty

Asking a person for their pronoun shows both awareness and support for all sexual orientations.

"We know that people are at their best when they are made to feel comfortable in their home, workplace, and community," Granger said.

"So making the effort to ensure you’re using the correct pronouns for others is an act of respect and an acknowledgement of their right to be themselves, whilst contributing to maintaining a safe, welcoming and happy space for all."

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au