Coming Out Day 2021 - Pleading for pronouns

At the celebration of the Coming Out Day 2021 on 11 October LGBTI+ coordinator Léon Ouwerkerk (CWI) wrote a personal column, pleading for mentioning pronouns when you introduce yourself.

Publication date
11 Oct 2021

For the celebration of the Coming Out Day on 11 October NWO's LGBTI+ coordinator Léon Ouwerkerk (CWI) wrote a personal column, which was published in the internal NWO-I newsletter of September 2021 (republished with permission), pleading for mentioning pronouns more often, for instance when you introduce yourself. From this newsletter:

NWO celebrates… Coming Out Day

In the series 'NWO celebrates…' we highlight special days that we as members of the NWO community can celebrate together. Today we point out Coming Out Day, which is held every year on 11 October. This day marks the moment that lesbian women, homosexual men, and bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI+) open up about their sexual orientation or gender identity: the day that they come out of the closet, or their ‘coming out’ as it is commonly referred to. NWO/NWO-I is celebrating Coming Out Day by flying the rainbow flag at its offices in Utrecht and The Hague and at all NWO Institutes. Léon Ouwerkerk, HR advisor with CWI and LGBTI+ coordinator for both NWO and NWO-I, wrote a personal column about Coming Out Day.

Coming Out Day column: Pleading for pronouns

Hello, I am Léon, and my pronouns are he/him/his.

I hope you haven’t stopped reading or got a sudden rash due to my presumed wokeness.

Frankly, until about eight months ago, I was not convinced about the usefulness of sharing my pronouns, but then I read the article in The Lancet (Sinton et al., 2020).

It states that visibility creates a crucial sense of individual belonging and security for LGBTI+ people, and those who are able to be open about their sexuality and gender can serve as role models for the wider community. The reverse problem of invisibility is exacerbated in STEM (= Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields due to heteronormative stereotypes, which can lead to challenges for LGBTI+ individuals in the workplace. The reluctance to come out at work can be rooted in notions of wanting to appear professional and rigorous, something also often conflated with heteronormativity. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that there is both a visibility and under-representation problem for LGBTI+ professionals and students in STEM.

The article in The Lancet also mentions a survey of LGBTI+ physical scientists in the UK, which showed that this group commonly feels isolated. Almost 50% of transgender researchers have considered leaving or have left their jobs in STEM.

I think this is a problem because it means that we are losing talent due to the invisibility of LGBTI+ people in the workplace, and/or people don’t feel comfortable at work.

The article suggests multiple macro-interventions, which sound familiar to me because NWO is already working on most of them. But it also mentions micro-interventions, that you can take as a person. One of them is sharing your pronouns.

That made me realize that sharing your pronouns is not about yourself, but about your effort to support your colleagues regardless of your own sexual identity.

I was born as a cisman (my gender identity and expression matches the biological sex that was assigned to me when I was born). I don’t have to let people know how I like to be addressed. But sharing your pronouns, makes it easier for transgender, intersexual, non-binary and other colleagues to share theirs. It makes work life easier for them.

I am not suggesting that you should mention your pronouns upon every introduction, but what harm can it do to share them under an email or on an ‘About Me’ PowerPoint slide. At the very least, it shows that you are open-minded and a safe person for LGBTI+ colleagues.

Of course, nobody has to do this, and we certainly do not want to force colleagues out of the closet with such a request. But you – also if you are a straight cisgender person – could start today by including your pronouns in your automatic signature under your email.

Thanks, and have a nice Coming Out Day,

Léon Ouwerkerk (he/him/his)

LGBTI+ coordinator