It’s OK To Use “They” To Describe One Person: Here’s Why
Has someone ever asked you to refer to them as they instead of he or she? Or, are you hedging because you can’t possibly refer to one single person as they? What if we told you that they has been used to refer to just one person since at least the 1300s?
Lexicographers have determined that as far back as the 1300s, they has been used as a gender-neutral pronoun, a word that was substituted in place of either he (a masculine singular pronoun) or she (a feminine singular pronoun), e.g., Each student should get their supplies ready for class.Each student is singular, but we don’t know (or need to know) the gender/sex identity of each student in this situation, so their is perfectly handy. Even Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and other beloved writers of the English literary canon used singular they.
In light of Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court not to hear Gavin Grimm’s case, I wanted to share with you this especially timely note from retired university president and PFLAG National Board member Chuck Middleton.
From the desk of…
Charles R. Middleton, Ph.D.
Retired University President
Why Title IX, the federal law which prohibits sex discrimination in schools, matters to all of us
After five decades working in higher education, including 13 years as president of a private university in the third-largest city in America, there’s one thing I know: fear and lack of understanding can create an environment that compromises safety and inhibits learning. This is just one reason why Title IX protections are especially important to LGBTQ students. All students should be assured that their safety and protections against discrimination are unquestionably guaranteed.
As the country’s first openly gay male university president, I am acutely aware of what it’s like to be marginalized and discriminated against. It’s remarkable how instinctively cautious you remain on personal matters, even when there is broader acceptance in society at large, if you learn early in your life that sharing your truth has potentially bad consequences for you personally as well as professionally. Imagine the stories our children are writing today when they have to fight for basic rights and dignities that everyone else takes for granted. Their bravery in standing up for their rights is truly inspirational. Now, they need our help.
I’m so proud of the work PFLAG is doing, specifically around Title IX and ensuring that all students, parents, teachers, coaches – everyone! – understands and knows how to #ClaimYourRights on behalf of the students they care about. Whether you’re transgender, gender expansive, know a student who is, or you want to ensure that your school or university is doing the right thing, visit pflag.org/ClaimYourRights to learn about this initiative which will ensure no student ever has to choose between getting an education and their personal safety.
PFLAG National Statement: PFLAG National and GLSEN Relaunch #ClaimYourRights Campaign – Everything You Need to Know
Today, GLSEN and PFLAG join together to re-launch our #ClaimYourRights Campaign, to help anyone affected by or witnessing anti-transgender discrimination in our schools file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Secretary DeVos clearly needs to better understand the extent of the daily pain and real barriers to wellbeing that the original Departmental guidance was designed to address and eliminate. We must see if her actions will live up to her words, and to the promises made by federal law and the United States Constitution.
GLSEN and PFLAG will do everything in our power to see to it that they do. What can you do? Here are handy tools and resources for you and your chapter, at your fingertips:
Read our statement on the relaunch of the #ClaimYourRights Campaign
Help those affected by discrimination file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education
Thank you for everything you do to create a community where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Interim Executive Director