How can I make the environmental movement more trans and non-binary inclusive?

Environmental activism operates in a political space, impacted by the government, media and public opinion among other things. To campaign for the planet effectively, we need to create a fairer world for all, especially those with marginalised identities like trans and non-binary people. Find out how you can be a better trans ally in the fight for people and planet.
  Published:  24 Feb 2023    |      4 minute read

It’s difficult to ignore current hostility towards trans people’s basic right to live safely, particularly from the government and the media. In January 2022, the government cancelled its own LGBTQIA+ convention, “Safe to Be Me”, after it was boycotted following the government’s exclusion of trans people from the ban on conversion therapy. That same year, the UK was listed by the Council of Europe as a site of “extensive and often virulent attacks'' against LGBTQIA+ rights, alongside other countries including Russia. Horrifyingly, hate crimes against LGBTQIA+ people have risen by a massive 348% in just under a decade.

For campaigning and activism to be effective, it needs to be inclusive. This means making sure people can participate safely, irrespective of who they are and whether they’ve been excluded historically. It’s important to note that, just because something’s legal, it doesn’t mean it’s safe and accessible. For example, while 1 in 6 adoptions in the UK are made by same-gender couples, the LGBTQIA+ community still faces resistance from and discrimination by members of the public.

Why is being trans-inclusive important in climate activism?

Activism is only effective when spaces acknowledge and embrace different experiences and identities. Climate justice is about recognising the interconnectedness of struggles and, in doing so, fighting for solutions to the climate crisis that not only reduce emissions but also create a fairer and more just world in the process.

The climate crisis certainly doesn’t discriminate, and we know that the disadvantages faced by the most vulnerable and marginalised are magnified in times of crisis. Gender-based violence increases after climate-related disasters, which leaves transgender and gender non-conforming people especially vulnerable.

Hurricane Katrina Storm Damage
Hurricane Katrina damage
Credit: istock

During Hurricane Katrina for example, LGBTQIA+ people faced discrimination in emergency shelters – many faith-based relief organisations refused to help them. A trans person was even jailed after showering in a women’s restroom despite being told she could by a volunteer.

If we’re to have a just climate movement, we need to make our campaigning spaces more inclusive. We need to make an effort to understand the experiences of trans and non-binary people and shift the attitudes held politically and socially to prevent further gender-related climate tragedies.

What are gender pronouns?

One small but hugely impactful thing we can do is honour people’s personhood and identity by respecting the gender pronouns they use.

We all have pronouns and we use them all the time. Pronouns are words that refer to either the people talking (like you or I) or someone or something that’s being talked about (like she, they, and this). Gender pronouns (like he or them) specifically refer to people that you’re talking about and are part of our everyday speech and writing. They’re used to take the place of people’s names.

Gender pronouns signal how people want to be referred to without needing to rely on assumptions. For example, someone may say “I use she/they” pronouns, which means they’re happy to be referred to as she/her/hers and they/them/theirs.

Why do gender pronouns matter?

Typically, we make automatic assumptions about what pronouns to use for someone. For example, if a person’s appearance seems to be “feminine” and they have a typical “girl’s” name, we’d be likely to use she/her when talking to or about them. Similarly, if a person’s appearance seems to be “masculine” and they have a typical “boy’s” name, we’d likely use he/him. Sometimes when we’re unsure about someone’s gender, we’ll use a gender-neutral pronoun like they/them.

Gender neutral pronouns such as they/them are sometimes used by trans people, and often used by non-binary people. While this might seem like a new concept, gender neutral pronouns have been used throughout history:

  • In 1912, Chicago School Superintendent Ella Young proposed new gender neutral pronouns he’er, his’er, and him’er.​
  • In the 1960’s, the gender-neutral term ‘hen’ was created in Swedish, and is now in common use today.​
  • The gender-neutral pronoun ‘hir’ was used in the 1920’s by a Californian newspaper The Sacramento Bee.

While a lot of the time we’re right when guessing someone’s pronouns, that’s not the case for everyone:

  • Not everyone identifies as either boy/man or girl/woman – sometimes people are gender non-conforming and choose to identify as they/them, or a range of other identities.
  • Someone’s appearance and name may not conform with “traditional” expectations of boy/man or girl/woman.
  • Someone’s gender might not align with how others perceive them.

Sometimes we can guess gender and get it wrong. This is known as misgendering: using wrong pronouns for a person, either intentionally or unintentionally. When someone is consistently misgendered, this becomes a burden that can negatively impact them. For trans and non-binary people, misgendering can be a daily occurrence, which can feel disrespectful, invalidating, dismissive, alienating or hurtful.

How can I show support for trans and non-binary people?

Someone is holding up a beautiful, rainbow-lettered placard which reads "Hello my pronouns are" with space to fill in your gender pronouns.
Pronouns placard
Credit: Alexander Grey via Unsplash

One of the ways you can show you care is by declaring your pronouns if you feel comfortable doing so. For trans and non-binary people, pronouns are a way to affirm gender identity and prevent misgendering. While there isn’t the same need for a cisgender person – that is, a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex registered for them at birth – to use pronouns openly, they’re still important in building an inclusive environment.

Declaring your pronouns isn’t always easy to do, but there are ways to make it simpler for people. You may have noticed that in some spaces, people are sharing their pronouns in introductions, on name tags, in their social media bios and at the beginning of meetings. This gives everyone in a space the opportunity to self-identify, instead of assuming each other’s identities or which pronouns they use.

Including your pronouns in introductions or your email signature can signal your allyship to trans and non-binary people, highlighting your understanding of pronouns and your wish to respect their importance.

Using the correct pronouns for someone doesn't cost anything, but it can be incredibly positive for trans and non-binary people. It’s a sign that you respect and see people how they see themselves. It can also make them feel more welcome in whatever space you’re in, including the climate movement.