With students returning the the virtual classroom, Fairfax County Public Schools is taking advantage of the virtual platform to help create a more welcoming atmosphere for the LGBTQ community by encouraging teachers to display their pronouns while utilizing video conferencing for classroom activities.
“When comfortable, staff members are encouraged to share their gender pronouns next to their name on virtual platforms,” officials from the FCPS central office said. “Gender pronouns are the words that an individual would like others to use when others are talking about them or to them. There are many that are used, “he, him, his;” “she, her, hers;” and “they, them, theirs”, “ze/hir” are a few examples. By sharing gender pronouns, we are building a more inclusive work and classroom environment.”
The statement also included a link to a guide published by GLSEN that provided some information “to help anyone learn how to use people’s correct pronouns.” In addition to covering why it’s beneficial to share pronouns and to avoid misgendering students, the document also provided a reminder that “using singular ‘they’ pronouns have been used in the English language for centuries.” Since many nonbinary people using they/them pronouns, the guide also provided people with a few tips on how to become more comfortable using gender neutral pronouns.
Despite outrage expressed by some extremely conservative former members of the school board like Elizabeth Schultz, Fairfax County has a long history of working to ensure the schools provide a safe learning environment for all students. Back in 2015, for instance, the school board voted to add gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy. In 2018, they also voted to make the sex ed curriculum and language in the school system’s dress code more inclusive for the transgender community.
“We are pleased to see the school board take this proactive step in updating the curriculum to be more inclusive of transgender and gender nonconforming students,” former Executive Director of Equality Virginia told the Washington Blade after the 2018 vote. “These updates will create a safer learning environment for LGBT and questioning youth and keep the Family Life teachings in line with leading medical experts.”
So far, the reaction to the move has been extremely positive throughout the Fairfax County community. There have been many teachers reaching out on social media to make sure they know how to include their pronouns on virtual platforms. Some teachers have also been encouraging others to contact their students to ask for their preferred names and pronouns.
Robert Rigby, a Latin teacher in Fairfax who’s also the head of FCPS Pride, for instance, took to Facebook to encourage his fellow teachers to “welcome LGBTQ+ students (and all students) by asking them about their name and pronouns.” He also included some tips on how to make the process a little easier.
While adding pronouns might seem like a relatively small step, it’s also viewed as something that can go a long ways towards creating a more welcoming learning environment. When that’s done while considering many reports indicate the pandemic might be having an impact on the mental health of students, community advocates are hailing this as a move that could prove extremely beneficial.