Rockville, Maryland, January 24 – Gender education is necessary to creating an inclusive and safe space free of hatred where trans people can fully participate in their place of work. Ash Williams visited RespectAbility and delivered a three-hour long training on the importance of gender-based terminology, pronouns, advocacy, inclusion and intersectionality.
Williams divided us into four groups to talk about gender-based terminology. Each group was given two words and the groups shared what those words meant to them. Words included transition, cis, transphobia, trans-misogyny, and trans. Ash recalled multiple workshops where people had hesitation over how words were defined for them so this activity expresses the importance of gender terminology being used contextually and not in a vacuum defined by others.
At RespectAbility it is common for people to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns at meetings, a practice that was put in place earlier this year prior to this Fellowship cohort. When someone asked about not being asked to identify their pronouns – in this situation because this individual was fluid in the pronouns this individual chose to use on any given day – Williams shared the importance of increasing choice by asking future Fellows to “share your pronouns if you want to.” Williams also added that the word “preferred” should never be used when asking for pronouns because a person’s pronouns are the only way they can be addressed. Using “preferred” waters down the importance and makes it harder for trans people to be present in the room. Williams also advised adding “is there anything else you want us to know about you so we can better support you” to our accommodation request forms.
Responding to a question about what to do when one accidently gets somebody else’s pronouns wrong, Williams offered that one should apologize every time misgendering happens because it lets people know that you know you did the wrong thing. Using she and he binary pronouns is ingrained into the English language, but Williams stressed that this should not be used as an excuse to not try to get people’s pronouns right. Not being discriminatory of other groups requires people to actively try.
Advocating for trans people can be difficult with people with whom one is close due to fear of disagreement. Williams recommended talking about how opposing trans rights contributes to high suicide rates and death rates for the trans community. “Trans people are not killing themselves because it’s so hard to be trans, but because we live in a world that’s so binary where people are not supported.” Williams also highlighted putting your time and energy into supporting people who believe in direct action and that trans people are worthy of support. “It is up to the individual to decide where to put their time and energy into,” added Williams.
Advocating for the trans community is a necessity because of the lack of safety trans people have. At the beginning of their presentation, Williams talked about Chanel Avery Scurlock, a black trans woman who recently was murdered this year. Chanel is one of at least 22 trans and gender nonconforming people murdered this year alone. Most of the victims have been black trans women; Williams added that the average life span for a black trans woman is only 30 years old.
The second activity of the training was a spectrogram game that allowed people to reflect on where they stand in practices of inclusion. Staff and Fellows would choose a number between 1 and 5 with 1 meaning strongly disagree and 5 meaning strongly agree. “When someone asks my name I give my pronouns too” was a statement that mostly gathered 3’s because most people felt it depended on the environment. For “it feels easy to talk to people who I don’t know about my disability,” the votes where split because talking about disabilities can get exhausting. “I want people to see me as a human being; I don’t want people to see me based solely on my disability” commented Tatiana Lee, the Hollywood Inclusionist at RespectAbility and has spina bifidia and uses a wheelchair.
The statement “It is easy for me to discuss my gender with people I don’t know” also gave split answers. Cis people in the room gave answers closer to 5 while trans people chose 1. The statement “trans people have had positive experiences with this organization” got a lot of comments from cis people in the room expressing they couldn’t answer that, and instead deferring to the trans individuals in the room.
Williams then gave staff and Fellows a chance to reflect on what drives their inclusion of trans people. “There are very few things that make me feel seen more than when folks actually anticipate my disability needs; I imagine that’s the same for the trans community and identity,” said Matan A. Kotch, director of Project Moses in LA and General Counsel at RespectAbility. Lee added that she is always worried about people being inclusive of people with disabilities, but she now knows she can do more to be inclusive of the trans community as well.
Inclusion does not only extend to disability and the trans community. Giving everyone a space to share their views regardless of ideological affiliation should also be strived for. In a past cohort, one Fellow was extremely right wing and got into arguments with people who did not agree with his sometimes-exclusionary views. He eventually quit the program because he felt the program did not align with his views. Williams offered that more training about inclusivity and gender education gives a person with exclusionary views an opportunity to learn and not just cancels them out. Williams also emphasized that not everyone wants to learn and change their views to benefit others. They cannot be forced.
Understanding how intersectionality works is a key component to inclusion. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality and defined it as “a metaphor for understanding the ways inequality or disadvantages compound themselves.” Williams listed some practices to help people of different intersections cooperate in the work place such as putting aside “defensiveness, listening, being vulnerable and willing to be wrong.” Williams also emphasized examining your own relationships and making sure to intentionally step outside of your comfort zone to achieve more diversity in your own group of friends or networking circle. RespectAbility understands the value of inclusivity. Thanks to Williams and others, RespectAbility will be able to effectively create a more inclusive space for trans people. The trans community will be able to fully participate and get the best out of their experience at RespectAbility due to the gender education provided in this effective training session and ongoing educational opportunities. Williams also was kind enough to leave us with resources about a range of topics regarding the trans community including some resources about intersection of disability and gender.
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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. This fall, eight Fellows have the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.
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