Opinion: A matter of respect

News  /  Opinion

Keeley Griego, Liss Smith and Noelle Strait

By Keeley Griego, additional reporting by Liss Smith and Noelle Strait

Personal pronouns (how we refer to individuals, like “he,” “she” and “they”) are vital to affirming the identity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. One young person, age 13, who attends our center, says his teacher once noticed that it made him uncomfortable when others referred to him as “she.” That teacher then asked a simple and invaluable question: What are your pronouns?

“And that kinda gave me the confidence to come out entirely to the school,” the youth says. “… But the thought of [teachers] not being able to ask makes me feel little, and weak.”

Some members of the Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education proposed a policy to ban teachers from asking students their pronouns, which would perpetuate the stigma of being LGBTQIA2+.

Due to that stigma, LGBTQIA2+ youth face higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts than their cisgender and heterosexual peers. But using a young person’s chosen name and correct pronouns (not “preferred” pronouns, which implies that gender identity is a choice) reduces their risk of suicide between 50 and 65 percent, according to studies from the Journal of Adolescent Health and The Trevor Project.

This boils down to respecting someone for who they say they are, instead of assuming anyone else knows them better than they know themself.

If changing how we refer to someone can save their life, why would we choose to ignore that? And why would we prevent someone from asking how best to respect their students?

When a teacher asks a student for their pronouns, they offer a symbol of safety. It shows LGBTQIA2+ students that they are safe to be their authentic selves at school, and that their teacher respects them.

D11’s own Diversity Resolution (signed unanimously by the Board) states: “the District 11 Board of Education encourages the Colorado Springs School District 11 to continue to reach out and make a conscious effort to build healthy and diverse teaching and learning environments where all people feel welcomed and are treated with dignity and respect.”

Less than 38 percent of nonbinary/genderqueer students in Colorado reported feeling like they belong at their school in 2021, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. If D11 wishes to live by their own words, the Board must empower their teachers to create safe spaces for students. 

With 36 percent of LGBTQIA2+ young people identifying as nonbinary, bigender, genderfluid, or genderqueer and 9 percent unsure of how they identify, teachers asking students their pronouns and using their correct pronouns will save lives.

We ask the D11 Board of Education to support and respect LGBTQIA2+ students by allowing teachers to ask their students’ pronouns. A policy limiting that freedom would be detrimental, and dangerous for the students you are sworn to protect.

Inside Out Youth Services urges students, parents and community members to contact the D11 Board of Education leading up to the next meeting on March 22. Show your support for LGBTQIA2+ students, express the importance of asking for pronouns, and ensure the Board respects its own Diversity Resolution.

Keeley Griego (she/ella) is the digital and community educator at Inside Out Youth Services, whose mission is to build access, equity and power with LGBTQIA2+ young people. Noelle Strait (they/she, school advocate) and Liss Smith (they/she, communications & advocacy director) contributed to this piece.

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