When people think about cultural competency, they tend to talk in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, disability and religion. While resources and initiatives have been devoted to assisting agencies for quite some time in advancing culturally competent communications, it wasn’t until more recently that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people (LGBTQ) have been included in these conversations.
We invited a few friends who are working in this space to weigh in with some of their tips on making nonprofit communications strategies LGBTQ inclusive.
Check if Your Programs and Services are Inclusive.
Ask yourself and your agency to pause for a moment of self-assessment. A success story came from Janeen Gingrich, interim chief executive officer at SHIFT NC, an organization that helps schools, healthcare providers, and other youth-serving agencies improve adolescent sexual health. As trusted technical assistance providers, SHIFT NC staff saw their community partners struggling with inclusion, so they looked at the many ways that sex education and reproductive health care can exclude LGBT youth.
As a result, SHIFT NC began helping them add elements of inclusion to their day-to-day work — everything from training on how to create safer spaces for LGBT youth, to providing them with tools like pronoun buttons, to including a variety of sex and gender options on forms. “It’s not just a matter of including a rainbow sticker on your next poster,” Janeen explained. Rather, they work to help their partners understand the importance of creating a welcoming environment that would help all youth focus on health.
Make a Good First Impression.
Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan agreed that agencies must begin internally. As the new director of the Trans/Gender Non-conforming Justice Project of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Victoria also has a unique personal background with LBGTQ advocacy. While a student at the University of Puerto Rico, Victoria became the first openly transgender member of student government and pushed the school’s administration for transgender accessible I.D. policies.
I asked Victoria for advice on how to communicate a safe and LGBTQ friendly agency. The Task Force’s recent report offers ways organizations can evaluate their policies and workplace cultures to ensure their environments are inclusive and friendly to the transgender community, and provides a great resource for agencies to consider.
Victoria’s first point of advice: begin with agency compliance and inclusive langue that will attract employees who offer valuable perspectives. Consider using inclusive language if you are responsible for creating the “first” view. Think about how LBGTQ donors and potential clients experience your agency’s website or social media channels.
Expand the Language of Love.
Crystal Richardson, former director of advocacy and outreach at Equality NC, says that given the divided times that we live in, not acknowledging safety and inclusion upfront can lead to negative assumptions. “The LGBTQ community is facing so much isolation right now,” she said. “Anything nonprofits can do to communicate that they are welcoming and respectful will help.”
Some simple things to consider for your communications:
- Post a nondiscrimination policy on your website and in other public places that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Ensure that public areas and spaces, including walls and social media, have LGBTQ images and contain LGBTQ-safe signals.
- Include LGBTQ images and language in all printed materials/brochures.
Crystal pointed out that something as simple as using proper language is important. “People still do not realize that words like ‘homosexuals’ are often considered derogatory terms.”
The Singular They is Really OK.
Crystal also suggested asking people being interviewed or quoted in your promotions how they’d like to be referred to in the third person. Ask people to say their preferred gender pronouns: “Hi, I am Crystal Richardson. I go by she, her, hers.” If you aren’t sure, use their, they, theirs as gender-nonbinary. Be prepared to debate this point with grammarians who cringe at using these plural pronouns to refer to a single person. But you have plenty to bolster your inclusive argument: See Oxford Dictionaries and how the “singular they” was declared a 2016 Word of the Year.
Take a Look at Your Event Invitations.
One of the most common areas of nonprofit exclusion are invitations to events and fundraisers. Do your invitations use gender-neutral terms and phrasing? It might take some time to reprogram your writing, but it is not necessary to specify the gender of a person in a particular role as most occupations are not gender defined. Crystal recommends adding a note to your event [*This event is gender inclusive] and making gender neutral restroom signs for the event.
Terms that show gender bias can be avoided. Use parallel terms, or terms of equal status, and avoid terms that denote gender inferiority.
Instead of: Invite your boyfriend or husband
Use: Invite your spouse or partner
Instead of: Invite your mother or father
Use: Invite your parent, loved one, family member
Instead of: Chairman
Use: Chair or Chairperson
Instead of: Each participant should read his packet
Use: Each participant should read their packet
It’s not about saying the wrong things. Communications professionals aren’t going to be perfect in every area of cultural competency, but your commitment to understanding will go a long way. Do not be afraid of getting it wrong. “If you come from a place of respect, most people aren’t offended by that. It’s the fact that you are making an effort to recognize all we want is basic human respect,” Crystal reminds.
Cultural norms and language are constantly changing, and (as in all underrepresented groups) there are large individual variabilities within LGBTQ communities. The intersectionality of people’s identities challenges a narrow definition of LGBTQ “culture.” LGBTQ elders, youth, homeless and people of color all have unique concerns for those willing to listen.
Meanwhile, I see rainbows in the future for those accepting the challenge to make your agencies more culturally competent.
This post was originally published at nonprofitmarketingguide.com.
Have more advice on how to be LGBTQ-inclusive? Share in the comments!