As Pride Month in Hawaii wrapped up last month, I reflected on the increase in media attention for LGBTQ+ issues, compared to last year.

NOTE: pick the correct link

Maybe the uptick in news is because the Pride Movement began 50 years ago in a New York City bar called the Stonewall Inn — and news organizations love an “anniversary.”

Or maybe it’s because people across the country are more aware of culture and identity issues in general — so there’s a public appetite for content about different cultures and communities.

Even Gov. David Ige has recently supported Hawaii’s LGBTQ+ community by signing several bills including one granting visibility for gender non-binary people — letting drivers select “X” as the gender on their driver’s license. I applaud Ige’s action and Civil Beat for publishing pieces like “Why Gender Neutral Driver’s Licenses Are So Important.”

I also recognize that there is a small action I can take to support gender-fluid and gender non-conforming people — it’s free and relatively easy, too.

I can — and did — put two simple words after my name in my work email signature: she/her. On my professional LinkedIn profile, too.

You might wonder how this helps anyone, especially gender non-binary people.

I’m what you would call a cisgender person — I’m a woman whose identity aligns with the female sex I was assigned at birth. I do not transcend gender. And that’s exactly the point.

GLBT rainbow. 27 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Showing pride at the Hawaii State Capitol in 2015.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

People who live outside of male and female gender categories often continually “come out” as transgender or gender-fluid, and respond to blunt questions like “Are you a girl or a boy?” (A better question is “Which pronoun do you prefer?”) Some gender non-binary people prefer the pronoun “she/her” or “he/him,” and others prefer gender-neutral pronouns “they/their” or even “ze/zir” instead. It’s brave.

It’s also risky. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than three-fourths of transgender people have experienced some form of workplace discrimination, and more than one in four have lost a job because of bias.

It’s About Self-Esteem

You might wonder why “they” come out at all. I think it’s true that most people feel better when their friends, family, and co-workers understand who they are — and the research backs me up on this: Teens who are open about their sexuality and gender identity have higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression when compared to those who stay in the closet.

Now that I’ve specified my pronouns in my professional email signature by adding “she/her,” I’m helping to create a new normal, where your pronoun is not assumed because of the way you look or dress.

And this actually helps reduce misgendering for everyone — not just those with non-binary gender. (My former colleague Lou — short for Louise—endured years of gender mis-attribution in email, until she added her pronoun preferences.) Email signatures that include pronouns reduce the likelihood of this kind of mistake, and the resulting awkward “correction conversation.”

As more workplaces in Hawaii declare that inclusivity is important, this is a simple practice that many can encourage or adopt. It takes very little effort — and again — it doesn’t cost a thing.

It’s a small action that adds momentum to a larger cultural shift — where every LGBTQ+ person gets to be visible for who they are — and not just after work in a gay bar.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Cat Howland
    Cat Howland is the associate director of communications at the Hawaii Community Foundation. She has lived in Hawaii for five years and believes that community spaces with diversity of race, gender, age, ability and politics make us all smarter and more awesome. She was guided by the UCSF Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center when crafting her email signature.