Pronouns: Charting A Path Toward Inclusivity

Spotlight / Editorial Spotlight
Tasos Katopodis
Edward Smith (he/him)
Jul 8, 2021
In 2021, amidst the global COVID‑19 pandemic, the Office for National Statistics conducted its once‑every‑decade national census in England and Wales. Designed to take the pulse of the nation, results from the census are used to help make decisions about public funding initiatives, education, and healthcare. In a historic first step for England and Wales individuals over the age of 16 could answer a voluntary question specifically added to address the topic of gender identity: "Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?"  
It was a milestone, to say the least—and also a long time coming, and evidence of a change in attitude, awareness and public mindset.
Getty Images LGBTQ+ ‘Guidebook for Visual Storytelling’, produced in collaboration with GLAAD, outlines that while the LGBTQ+ community appears to be gaining more acceptance, research shows that LGBTQ+ individuals remain grossly underrepresented in media. A 2019 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found only 1.9% of characters in ads from the annual Cannes Lions festival were LGBTQ+.  
Understanding the topic of gender identity and gender expression is complex, owing to the social constructs around what is traditionally considered masculine or feminine. For some being non‑binary may mean identifying as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. What’s important to note is that by adding the gender identity question to the census survey we are not only inviting individuals to be their authentic selves, but we are also beginning to broaden the collective understanding about what diversity and inclusion truly means and understand that some individuals may not conform to traditional binary concepts.
The gender binary construct is a particularly prominent topic in the transgender community as many trans people don’t identify as non‑binary but by enabling them to assert their correct pronouns they can identify with the gender which they believe accurately represents them.  
Another milestone was passed this year as a small town in North Wales elected not only their youngest ever Mayor but also the world’s first openly non‑binary Mayor, the Right Honorable Owen J. Hurcum who assumed office in May 2021. Born in 1997 and originally from Harrow, London, Hurcum moved to Bangor over 5 years ago. They identify as genderqueer, agender, and prefer to use they/them pronouns. When speaking to North Wales Live, they stated that "I prefer to use the pronouns 'them/they.’ I know I'm not a bloke, but I know I'm not a trans woman either”.

Adding to this challenge is the problem that the images that are used are often limited to false or outdated stereotypes and frequently fail to represent the full spectrum of people that make up this diverse and dynamic community. Findings from Getty Images Visual GPS Spring 2021 study found that ads that currently portray LGBTQ+ individuals do so with 30% showing gay men as feminine, 29% LGBTQ+ people carrying the rainbow flag, 29% lesbian women as masculine, 28% showed gay men as ‘flamboyant’, 28% showed LGBTQI+ people marching/ protesting and 27% showed LGBTQI+ people at parades/ parties.

In the world of celebrity, visibility for the non‑binary and transgender community is making huge strides. Over the past 12 months, Oscar‑, Grammy‑ and Brit Award‑winning singer Sam Smith and 14‑time Teen Choice Award winner Demi Lovato have both redefined their gender identity as non‑binary while others including actress/singer‑songwriter Janelle Monáe, presenter Jonathan Van Ness, actor Tommy Dorfman, and actress/model Indya Moore also publicly affirmed their identities as being within the non‑binary spectrum.
Recently Elliot Page disclosed that he is transgender and uses the pronouns he/him and they/them. On March 21, Elliot became the first openly trans man to appear on the cover of Time Magazine. While actress Emma Corrin, made famous for play Princess Diana in the Netflix series The Crown, also revealed that she has changed her pronouns to she/ they.
While visibility in the world of acting, music, and sport is embracing this community, there is still a long way to go in the political arena, though we are seeing progress. As well as Owen who is the first openly non‑binary elected official in the world, Karine Jean‑Pierre is the first openly gay Black female to be appointed Principal Deputy Press Secretary who briefs the press corps at The White House in Washington D.C while Sarah McBride is the first openly trans woman to be elected as a State Senator in Delaware.

With this wave of change, you would expect to see that reflected in search but this is not the case. Getty Images’ propriety data found that from the visuals downloaded in 2020, less than 1% include people with LGBTQ+ identities.
Brands and the media are starting to catch up‑We have seen the depiction of LGBTQ+ communities evolving in our internal search data at Getty Images as well. Searches for LGBTQ+ families are up 91% on last year and search in trans topics are up 200% while searches for non‑binary is up an incredible 270%.
In order to do our bit, we launched the Getty Images’ “LGBTQ+ Guidebook for Inclusive Visual Storytelling”, created in collaboration with GLAAD to help brands better represent the LGBTQ+ community. Our VGPS research this year has found that 84% of respondents agree “people should be free to express their gender through clothing, hairstyles or mannerisms” and 78% of people agree that ‘society should not try to enforce conformity to traditional gender roles which point to the importance of these guidelines.
The use of pronouns and why they are important is nothing new to the LGBTQIA+ community who have long embraced the importance of gender identity and gender expression. Using the correct pronouns fosters inclusivity and a belief in the future without discrimination. It is not a visual cue, but rather it creates a safe space in which individuals feel welcomed to be their authentic selves and valued to fully participate. The effort to use or ask someone their correct pronouns is small but the impact to the individual can be significant. It’s a way to show respect, strength, solidarity and allyship.

If you enjoyed this read Fluid by Blake Little here.
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