Being more inclusive in our speaking delivery for LGBTQ audience members

Submitted by Stephen Hammond BA, JD, CSP

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there has been an awakening in the United States and around the world about the very real inequality between white people, and people of colour, in particular Black people. In Canada we have been watching video of questionable police behaviour towards Indigenous Canadians.

While big changes are needed in police services and opportunities of every kind, people are learning that even mere words can have a real and meaningful impact. As a result, many of us have learned to be more sensitive and more careful about the words we use. This is a good thing.

On a different front, and one I’ve been asked to write about, there is also a need for people in the speaking industry to be sensitive and careful about words we use when trying to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community.

In my past life, I was very closeted…and I thought it was for a good reason. I was good at dodging and weaving conversations to hide my sexual orientation. Of course, so much of that has changed for me, as it has for so much of our world (not the entire world).

Yes, I have way more rights and opportunities in Canada, but I know that if I travel to certain parts of the world, I would be killed just for admitting to a part of my life. Literally killed.

As speakers, there’s a good chance you’re not going to get in front of a crowd (or computer screen these days) and say something completely bigoted about gay people. That goes without saying. However, you might say somethings that will get some people’s back’s up.

Let me tell you some of the things I’ve learned, and/or want to get across.

“That’s so gay” Ok, there’s a good chance none of you will say that, but just to be clear, while a person might be trying to say, “that’s not cool”, it’s clearly a negative towards gay people.

“That’s ok” when someone tells you they’re not heterosexual. Usually people don’t know what to say, but I’m not looking for your approval that I’m gay, so perhaps you could respond with “I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing.”

“Sexual preference” If the sexual orientation of a straight person isn’t a “preference” then it makes sense that my gay orientation also isn’t a preference. There is the occasional person who says they made the choice to be with a person of the same sex, but those people are few and far between.

“Gay marriage” Several years ago, I think this was ok, as “gay marriages” were a new thing. But since marriage is now equal, it’s time to move on, by just referring to people as being “married” if they are.

Then of course there’s the issue of gender identity. Many of us are trying to use language that’s inclusive. Most Canadians identify as male or female, man or woman. The number who do not, are still small, but it’s not uncommon to talk to someone who doesn’t fit the binary mould into which most of us fit.

When I’m writing, I do my best to refer to people as “they” instead of he and she. But we want to use common sense. If we’re talking about someone who identifies as a man, then it makes sense to use “he”. Same for a woman when using “she”. We just have to be open to the changing language around us and if someone challenges us, we need to find a considerate way to learn and respond.

If you want more guidance about terminology, I found this great source from Glaad in the United States. Some information will be US specific, but overall, I think it’s a good guide.

And don’t worry if you slip up. Try your best. I’m constantly learning, and I don’t fall apart when someone asks me to use different terminology. But also remember that you must feel comfortable with the words you use.

Years ago, I got a call from someone at a police department I worked with. Their spokesperson was talking to a crowd about equality issues and referred to women as “lesbians”. A very vocal couple of women berated the spokesperson saying they preferred “dykes”. While I’m not all-knowing about all these things, my advice was not to refer to lesbians as dykes generally as there could be more problems with that term.

Times are a changing. With what is going on in our world, mere words may not seem like a big deal, but when you use the wrong words, it can become a big deal. Learn new things. Be thoughtful. Try your best.

And if you want to ask a “dumb” question or even a smart one, get hold of me, as I’d be happy to help, if I can.