Getting it right with pronouns a good start to 2024

Jonathan Lee, Rainbow CenterCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Jan. 17, 2024) — As we begin a new year, one of my resolutions is to be more mindful and not misgender my colleagues, family and friends.

The Human Rights Campaign documented 59 deaths of transgender or gender-non-conforming people who were fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2021. In 2022, 41 victims were reported, and as of November 2023, 33 were violently killed. Many more are not reported.

Violence against the LGBTQQIA+ communities remains serious, even with the progress we’ve made.

Despite a societal reinforcement of traditional gender roles, more individuals are expressing personal identities outside or beyond traditional binary (fe)male gender and sexual identities, roles and expectations. This includes those identifying themselves as transgender, non-binary, gender-non-conforming or gender-fluid.

Human rights issue

Gender identity is a human rights issue. People are challenging traditional gender norms/stereotypes, in particular heteronormative concepts of gender roles based on a binary (fe)male dogma.

This evolving social movement changes the language used to more accurately reflect the diversity of people’s sexual and gender identities that are both natural and socially constructed.

Pronouns are important. We use them in our daily speech and writing to take the place of people’s names. Pronouns become a bigger deal when limited binary gender expression becomes a source of hate and violence targeting members of the LGBTQQIA+ communities.

In English, the singular pronouns that we use most frequently are: I, you, it, she, her, him and he. I, you and it are gender neutral, while she, her, he and him are gendered. This creates an issue for transgender and gender-non-conforming people, because others may not use their pronouns correctly when speaking to or about them.

An easy way to cultivate a gender-inclusive workplace is to use pronouns in our email signatures and to introduce ourselves at meetings with our pronouns. For example, “I am Jonathan Lee; my pronouns are he, him, his.”

One may also use they, them and their pronouns as a way to communicate solidarity. Do not assume that someone’s pronouns are the same as their gender identity or sexual orientation. A person can identify as female and also use he/him/his or they/them/their pronouns.

Because it’s a new concept to many people, misgendering will happen. As a self-identified queer person, I continually misgender my colleagues, friends and family members. It is not a willful act of malice but rather reveals the power of heteronormative conditioning.

It is a humbling experience to be corrected, but an important and necessary process of creating a world that is more accepting of the manifold possibilities of human diversity.

If someone sees they are not being referred to correctly, it will cause feelings of harm and marginalization. A parent refusing to accept their child’s pronouns is expressing conditional love.

Compassionate language

Because pronouns play a significant role in every aspect of our lived experience, accurate use of pronouns is a core part of being a considerate, kind and empathic person. Using correct pronouns to understand an individual’s gender identity and expression is life-transforming and life-affirming. It is compassionate language.

It starts with an easy question: “What are your pronouns”? Immediately, one communicates: “I see you.” This is life-saving, because it will reduce acts of violence targeting transgender and gender-non-conforming individuals. This is why pronouns matter.

Jonathan Lee is the interim executive director of the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County. Visit

Jonathan Lee is Interim Executive Director of the Rainbow Commuity Center. For more information, visit