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How to be more inclusive by using gender-affirming pronouns

"It's our job to be inclusive of people as they find themselves," said Sandra Zapata with The Center on Colfax.

DENVER — You may have noticed people adding their pronouns to their email signatures or name tags. Some people will tell you their pronouns when they're introducing themselves. 

It's just one way to be more inclusive in your daily life.

"We already have so many boxes that we have to check off for societal reasons that I feel like your own identity shouldn't be one of those," said Sandra Zapata, director of youth services at The Center on Colfax.

Assuming someone's gender just by the way they look can be harmful. 

"I'm a non-binary person so that means I don't identify as a male or female. I'm nowhere in those boxes," said Zapata, who uses they/them/theirs pronouns. "If you're constantly getting my pronouns wrong that means you don't actually see me as who I am, but as who you believe I should be and that's hurtful."

Zapata said when people use their correct pronouns, they feel seen. 

But, if you misgender someone or use the wrong pronouns, Zapata said you should acknowledge that it happened and correct yourself. 

"So they know that you're actually changing your behavior and it's not just, 'Oh I'm sorry, it doesn't really matter that it happened,'" they said. “There’s a lot of rules about gender in our society and so there’s a lot of expectations that come with those binary terms of 'he' and 'she,' right? I just don’t believe that those things should be applied to anyone in general, but specifically for me because I don’t identify with any of those ends of the spectrum. It feels like if I’m not one of those then I’m nothing."

Zapata said when you're meeting someone new, it's important to introduce yourself with your pronouns first. 

"So then, if the person seems comfortable using any pronouns that are not he/she then they know that you may be a safe person for them to open up to," they said.

As language continues to expand, Zapata said it's crucial to keep up with it and to practice using gender neutral pronouns.

"If somebody prefers to go by ze/zim, that's their choice and that's not necessarily them trying to be difficult, it's just them finding in themselves ways that just fit better for them," they said.

Zapata said being inclusive and using people's correct pronouns can help reduce violence towards trans and non-binary people. 

"The best thing that we can do to make everybody safer is to be accepting and to be affirming of folks as who they are," they said. “I just really want you to be open to how people will present themselves to you. If they feel safe with you, they will give you information about who they are and your respecting that will give them the space to keep exploring who they are and how they want to be safe in the world.”

The Center on Colfax has weekly and monthly programs for transgender or gender-diverse people. Click here to learn more. 

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