Inclusive Language Is Evolving Language – by Jade Sylvan, UUA LGBTQ Ministries and Clara Barton Gender Justice Fellow

Dear Friends,

Many LGBTQ+ people see their self-identifying language shift over their lifetimes, even if their identities themselves do not change. As our access to language and community evolves, we might “come out” to our friends, family, and congregations, sometimes many times within a relationship. In fact, new language continues to be workshopped in LGBTQ+ communities as we search for words that best communicate our particular and shared experiences. I feel this is a great strength of the LGBTQ+ community. At our best, we are always actively evolving.

I often see challenges arise around change within Unitarian Universalist communities, both interpersonally and systemically. A cis member of a congregation may refuse to work at using a newly-out trans person’s pronouns because they’ve “just always known him as ‘he.’” A board may vote against genderless bathrooms “because they’ve always been this way.” I feel the resistance when someone doesn’t do the work to internalize my gender and my pronouns and therefore continues to misgender me. This resistance to change makes LGBTQ+ people feel excluded, which is sometimes especially painful for folx who sought out the faith because of its reputation as welcoming.

What I often hear from cis and straight allies in congregations is that they want to get their words “right.” But what’s right now for one community or individual may not be right in a decade or a year (or a week). No matter what words you print on your sign, if you are welcoming enough, eventually someone will ask you to change it. This should be taken as a positive. It means people want to be included in your community, and they feel comfortable enough with you to ask.

May we all move into the sacred work of evolution together.

Amen and Blessed Be.

Jade Sylvan has more on inclusive language.

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