Changing language reflects changes in social attitudes. In 2015 the appropriate language to use when referring to transgender and gender diverse people is becoming more recognised, publicised and supported.
We believe there is no excuse for those working in the public domain, including the media, to use language which is dehumanising, offensive and derogatory.
Deliberate and continued misgendering, including using ‘he/she’ or ‘it’ to describe a transgender person not only reflects a lack of acceptance but perpetuates ignorance and confusion. Furthermore, word choices can often reflect unconscious assumptions around gender roles.We know that transgender and gender diverse people face discrimination every day in their schools, employment or in accessing healthcare. Many feel socially isolated and often face rejection from family or peers.
We know the impact of this is that transgender and gender diverse people experience significantly worse mental health than the general population.
It is also important to consider the law. In Victoria, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender identity.
One of the most common areas for discrimination to occur is in the workplace and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has developed a set of guidelines outlining obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. The guidelines provide practical guidance for employers on how to be proactive in preventing discrimination against transgender employees. These guidelines are helpful in explaining the use of language.
The words we choose to describe difference can be either weapons or building blocks to greater understanding. We need to ensure that the language we use does not constrain, stereotype or silence.
The Hon Martin Foley MP – Minister for Equality
Kate Jenkins – Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner
Rowena Allen – Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality