How to plan a more LGBTQIA+ inclusive event
Fighting Cissexism and Heteronormativity at Events
These guidelines are over-arching and fairly generic to encourage a baseline for queer and trans allyship – every person present may or may not want/need very different forms of allyship. People’s preferences and needs are always going to be different, especially when it comes to gender identity. Allyship as a practice must be constantly worked on and reshaped as we work to fight cissexism. This is particularly important for members of the LGBQ community who are cisgender!
Cissexism refers to the pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people whose gender and/or gender expression falls outside of cis-normative constructs. This system is founded on the belief that there are, and should be, only two genders & that one’s gender or most aspects of it are inevitably tied to assigned sex.
At the LGBTQIA Resource Center, we often choose to use the word “cissexism” in place of “transphobia” because incorrect usage of “phobia” perpetuates ableism, and it incorrectly characterizes cissexism as fear instead of violence. We also use “trans antagonism” to describe intentional acts of discrimination, harassment, and violence against trans people.
Language & Interactions
- First and foremost, always use the pronouns & name that people want you to use for them. If you’re unsure, ask!
- For example:
- “Can you remind me what pronouns you use?”
- “I use ____ pronouns. Are you comfortable sharing yours?”
- For example:
- If a person chooses not to share their pronouns, or you don’t have a chance to ask, you can refer to them by their name, or use they/them pronouns if you have not learned their name.
- People have many different preferences – some people may want you to use a mix of pronouns, or primarily refer to them by name. Be conscious of these.
- Note: Many trans folks have moved away from the language “preferred pronouns” because pronouns are required, not preferred. Still, people who use multiple sets of pronouns (i.e. they/them and he/him) may prefer one over another.
- If you make a mistake, briefly correct yourself – without being dismissive of its importance, without making excuses, & without making it a huge deal/over-apologizing/drawing attention to yourself and your mistake.
- For example:
- “I was talking to Jess and she said – sorry, they said…”
- Don’t do: “She said — oh my god, I’m so sorry! I don’t know why I did that! I’m usually so good about pronouns, I’m so sorry!... etc.”
- For example:
- When you know it’s safe, politely (and subtly, if possible) correct others if they use the wrong pronoun or name for someone else. It can help to be explicit rather than hoping they pick it up.
- For example:
- “Don’t forget that Jess uses they/them pronouns.”
- For example:
- If you find yourself struggling to consistently use the right pronouns or name for people, practice on your own time. Practice using gender neutral pronouns by saying sentences with them out loud on your own.
- Be sure to always use gender neutral language. Phrases like “you guys,” “ladies and gentlemen,” and others can feel very hurtful for some trans folks, and these phrases all have gender neutral alternatives. Certain words have different impacts on different people because of the way they are gendered, racialized, etc. (i.e. dude, guys, sis, girl); this does not mean they are inherently “bad” words. If you’re not sure how a word could impact someone, don’t use it.
- Alternatives include y’all, folks, friend, etc.
- Consciously deconstruct your beliefs about gender and sex. It’s not enough to just memorize pronouns; unlearn the cissexist associations we’ve been taught between appearance, behavior, sex, and gender.
- Take time to educate yourself. You can’t possibly combat trans antagonism without doing the work to know what struggles trans people face.
- Don’t expect all trans people to do the work to educate you for free. Understand that there is a difference between talking to individuals about our preferences/perspectives and asking someone to be your educator. Additionally, every trans person has different experiences and every conversation will look different!
- Don’t assume the only way to transition is through hormones/surgery; many trans people choose not to alter our bodies/appearance through medical processes or in any capacity. Additionally, understand that medical transition is very often connected to economic status. Recognize the classism inherent in associating medical transition with “authentic” trans identities.
- Some questions often asked of trans folks are rude and trans antagonistic. Asking a person intrusive questions about their bodies can be harmful, and are no one’s business but their own. Don’t ask about surgery or hormone status. It’s up to trans people if they choose to share this information on their own terms.
Ways to make language more inclusive:
- “Hey, everyone” or "How are all y'all doing?" in a group setting instead of “Hey guys!” or “Hey ladies!" or "How are you guys doing?"
- “They are a first year” when referring to a scholar instead of “they are a freshman”
- Notice when someone refers to another person by their occupation if you naturally use a particular pronoun. (i.e. Person A: “I just got back from the doctor’s office.” Person B: “What did he say?”)
Content warnings are a way to help practice consent within written and spoken material. Content warnings work to flag material that will be discussed that may be difficult or triggering for some to process or engage with. Content warnings are often used at the beginning of a conversation or at the top of a written document about said difficult topic(s). Content warnings allow for folks who are attending talks or engaging in your written work to choose whether they feel comfortable engaging with that particular section that is describing or mentioning sensitive or triggering material.
At the UCD LGBTQIA RC we use content warnings to allow people to leave the space or skip parts of a reading that bring up traumatic experiences or situations. One way we do this is by announcing when we will be touching on a difficult subject within talks or workshops. We use content warnings when presenting workshops, videos, reading materials, and speakers. At the Center, we like to use content warnings continuously throughout a program to allow for folks to engage as much as possible with content that is not immediately triggering while avoiding the sensitive content.
This can look like the following example:
“I will now be talking about instances of sexual trauma. If you’d like to excuse yourself from the room/mute the zoom call/or otherwise disengage, please feel free to do so. I will do (x gesture, such as waving my hands) to show when I am done engaging with this topic.”
Some content warnings to remember are as follows:
- Mention of police or state violence/murder
- Anti-Black language or attitudes
- Trans-antagonistic violence/murder
- Queer-antagonistic violence/murder
- Mentions of sexual/domestic/gendered violence
- Ableist language or attitudes
- Substance use/abuse
- Gunshots or other loud noises
- Anything you think could potentially trigger someone or bring up harmful past experiences or lived understandings
If you are unsure whether or not something in your presented material is triggering, it is good practice to include a content warning. We never know for sure what the people who are engaging with our content are going through/have experienced. In order to make our spaces as safe and consensual as possible, we require the use of content warnings for any presented material.
Community Agreements- what we do, please adopt.
- Allow for complexity
- Recognize multiple truths
- Use “I” statements to share thoughts and feelings
- Consider your identities
- Our complex, multiple identities place us at different axes of oppression and power
- How do your multiple identities impact how you take up space & talking time?
- Examine, recognize, and bring attention to behaviors or patterns in the space (accountability)
- Own your impact; hold your intentions
- Openly receive information about how you have impacted or harmed another (Resist the urge to ‘fix’ things)
- Engage in silent self-reflection on your intentions
- Intentional engagement in learning & growth
- Be fully present
- Honor that we’re all starting at different points of knowledge and awareness
- Recognize that some discomfort can be part of the growing process
- Seek education - don’t put it on others to educate you
- Bubbles – say “bubbles” in group dialogue if you don’t understand something
- Stretch Zone
- When engaging, move out of your comfort zone and participate in a way that promotes your own learning. Don’t push so far that you’re in a trauma zone.
- What’s shared here stays here, what’s learned here leaves here
- Listen to understand
- Speak your truth with care – use content warnings when appropriate
- Consideration around dynamics of speech - when/if speaking overlaps - being attuned to whether others are getting the chance to finish sharing their thoughts
- Attempt compassion for yourself and others
- Be lovingly critical
- We all make mistakes
- Practice self-care (ie: bio breaks, outside breaks during day)
- Share your listening/receiving if you tend to talk/share ideas
- Share your voice/perspectives if you tend to be quiet/withhold your ideas
- Make space for silence
- Silence is not necessarily empty and does not mean folks are disengaged
- Silence is intimate - reflection and connection can happen in silence
- Trust the process, we may leave feeling unfinished and we are working together towards change
- Dismantling systemic oppression is not an easy thing - if it was, it would’ve already been done