Last weekend, I went to the youth pride parade in my community. Youth identifying as LGTBQIA+ were invited to walk in the parade, and supporters were invited to line the streets and cheer for them. If you ever need a pick-me-up, this is the ticket. As expected, I cried, watching all those youth joyfully being themselves. And I borrowed some of their courage and authenticity for myself, vowing to keep creating a world where love and acceptance are stronger than hate and exclusion.
When I talk with clients about inclusion in their organizations, the most common thing I hear is, “I just can’t keep up with all these pronouns,” or “I’m scared of making a mistake.” There is so much help out there for individuals and organizations who want to grow in their inclusion, so here are just a few commitments and insights that have helped me along the way:
Do your own learning. Watch some videos, listen to some podcasts, read some books. Educate yourself on gender identity, gender expression, physical sex, and sexual orientation (all different things!) and add to your learning as our mental models and language evolve. Humbly acknowledge all you don’t know. It’s not about memorizing terms, but about staying open and curious.
Learn to apologize quickly without centering yourself. If you get something wrong, just briefly apologize and move on. Don’t further embarrass someone by dwelling on it or dig your hole even deeper by wallowing or crying.
Recognize that identities are always evolving. Even if you don’t identify as LGTBQIA+, your identity is evolving. Or at least, it should be—you learn new things. You leave some things behind. One of my friends always asks me when we meet, “Are your pronouns still she/her?”
Notice the assumptions you make based on how people look. Notice I didn’t say, “Don’t make assumptions.” I haven’t been able to stop that habit yet. And, in fact, some assumptions save our lives, like, “I’m going to assume the red light means stop.” But when it comes to making assumptions about someone’s gender or who they love based on how they look, this gets me into trouble. If I notice I’m assuming, I can do the work to keep it to myself.
Say “your household” instead of “wife,” or “husband.” We want to know about one another—we are curious about what jobs people have, who they live with, who they love. But if we start with broader language, it can make a really big difference in how accepted someone feels.
Scratch things like “ladies and gentlemen” from all communication. I’m surprised by how much I still hear monikers like this in written corporate communication. Get rid of it. And I’m training myself to say “sibling” instead of “brother” or “sister,” to say “child” instead of “son” or “daughter.”
If you’re in a position to hire, promote, and develop people, lucky you! Any learning and skill-building about inclusion will help your team and your organization, and you’ll benefit from attracting more diverse candidates over time. And the more diverse a team is, the higher performing they are likely to be.
I heard someone from my faith tradition say recently that they celebrate Pride month like they celebrate Lent or Advent—its own sacred season with rituals calling for and celebrating liberation. To my friends, clients, and fellow humans who are lovingly and fiercely showing us the rainbow way, thank you. I see you; I love you; this little letter is part of my ritual. When you’re free, we are all free.
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