Home Social Justice Pronouns beyond “he” and “she” gain recognition in media

Pronouns beyond “he” and “she” gain recognition in media

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Imagine not identifying as a male or a female, but as a being whose profession requires regular interaction with the press and public that aren’t used to operating outside the gender binary.

Many people are accustomed to being referred to as “he” or “she.” When there is more than one individual, people may refer to the group as “they” or “them.” But when an individual identifies as two-spirit or gender neutral, their pronouns may contradict traditional understandings and push the media to reconsider policies on gender identification.

Ohio University LGBT Center Director delfin bautista prefers gender-neutral pronouns and does not capitalize their first and last name.

“As a trans person, there refers to themselves with non-gendered pronouns because there doesn’t identify themself by gender, but as a being,” bautista said. “Not capitalizing my name is my way of embodying queer as a pedagogy and destabilizing the norm and queering.”

OU Student Services specialist Jacob Hagman feels bautista, by not capitalizing their name and staying true to their pronoun identification, makes a powerful statement. Hagman also feels the decision to use gender-neutral pronouns advocates for others who desire for the same thing.

“I think it’s a pretty powerful thing that I haven’t thought of before, but it is something that makes sense … it’s not delfin as a being, it’s not the director of the LGBT Center, it’s just out there doing what they feel is the right thing to do,” Hagman said. “There is a lot of people who want their name on everything that they are doing. delfin doesn’t want that. delfin advocates for faculty and for students and wants to make those changes.”

Changes for bautista came when Debra Benton, the university registrar for Ohio University, made an announcement via email July 29 that students could specify preferred names and pronouns of choice online to avoid misrepresentation in the classroom.

Media outlets still find themselves in situations where they do not know how to approach the issue. Fred Brown, former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and current co-vice chair of the ethics committee, found the situation to be an issue for journalists.

“You know it’s a little problematic,” Brown said. “I would much prefer it if the interviewee picked a singular pronoun rather than a plural pronoun, because it sounds kind of sloppy to use ‘they’ to refer to an individual who presumably is either of one sex or intending to be of another sex.”

According to Brown, the issue of gender-neutral pronouns has come up before when revising the SPJ Code of Ethics in the past few years.

“I think we’ve had this discussion, for instance, when we were revising the SPJ Code of Ethics last year and the year before that,” Brown said. “We didn’t include specific instructions on how to do that, but there are explanatory notes that go with the Code of Ethics that sort of cover that.”

Brown believes creating a gender-neutral pronoun definition in the dictionary could provide clarity.

“I think that would solve a lot of problems if we can agree on one,” Brown said. “I think people in the past have tried to do that using terms like ‘shim,’ but none of that stuff never[sic] really caught on. If someone could come up with a brilliant idea that solves that problem, I think it would solve a lot of journalism’s problems.”

The Post, an Ohio University student newspaper, changed its policies after OU announced it’s change this summer. The paper has now decided to ask interviewee’s preference in stories, announced in a column titled, “Between the Lines: ‘Post’ copy staff agrees with, will enforce Ohio University’s preferred pronoun policy,” on Sept. 21.

“We, the 2015-16 copy editing staff slot editors, are putting an end to this last name, always-capitalized policy,” the copy team said in an opinion meant to represent Copy Chief Olivia Hitchcock and slot editors Rachel Danner, Hannah Debenham, Anna Gibbs and Cara Hanson. “We will use the pronouns (he, she, they, ze, etc.) based on sources’ identities. And names will only be capitalized if that’s what the person prefers.”

Some student workers in the LGBT Center are pleased with the Post’s change, but wish it had come sooner.

“I think it is really awesome that they are adopting the pronoun policy,” Sarah Grote, LGBT Center project coordinator, said. “It is obviously going to make people more comfortable and actually respect their gender identity. However, I think it is a little bit late, and I know that delfin has had problems in the past with The Post with capitalizing their name and not using the pronouns that they wish people would use.”

Grote hopes that more media outlets follow with policies that honor individuals and feels that the reach of journalism will help educate the public.

“Journalism is something that is representative of a larger consciousness of people,” Grote said. “When journalism outlets are using something like ‘they,’ it helps people see the differences in gender identity.”

Alyssa Alcorn, a senior communications student at Ohio University, feels that if journalists do not use the correct pronouns, then they are causing harm to interviewees while also being inaccurate.

“I think that if you’re misrepresenting people or how they identify then it not only affects that person, it affects the news being written and how people might then interpret that news,” Alcorn said.

According to Brown, journalist need to comply with requests of the interviewee, in regard to pronouns, to remain ethical.

“If you insist on doing something the person does not prefer, I think that is a bit arrogant on the part of the journalist,” Brown said. “To be neutral and impartial, it is probably best to use whatever pronoun the person prefers.”

Brown feels that using the correct gender pronoun is no different than respecting someone’s personal choice on wording about race or ethnicity.

“It is sort of like describing someone’s ethnicity or race,” Brown said. “You should probably ask.”

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