Making Transgender / Genderqueer / Non-binary Inclusion a Priority — A Toolkit for Conference Organizers

A blue and white sign for FooCamp that says “Consider grabbing a pronoun sticker!"

When I first wrote Making trans inclusion a priority at conferences I was frustrated at constantly having to advocate for myself & other transgender / genderqueer / non-binary folks at conferences. It felt great to vent, but it also turns out it’s been helpful for some conference organizers as well.

There are other important things to consider when trying to make your conference more inclusive for transgender / genderqueer / non-binary attendees, though, and I wanted to capture that somewhere.

These recommendations may change in the future, and while I have sought out advice from other trans / genderqueer / non-binary folks, please know that this is largely from my own experience and observations.

If you want to be a truly inclusive conference, you also need to consider the needs of Black folks, Indigenous folks, People of Color in general, and people with various types of ability / disabilities. Following these recommendations does not mean you’ve ticked off your diversity checkbox — but it is an important step in the right direction of making your event more inclusive.

Questions or feedback? You can email me at: contact@bronwynlewis.com

Normalizing Pronoun Sharing

Normalizing pronoun sharing is a simple way for a conference to be more inclusive and to help folks avoid misgendering others. A lot of people will just assume folks are a binary gender based on however they read them, and address them as such, but that can be really painful for transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary people in particular (and is often something they deal with every day already). Encouraging everyone to share pronouns helps normalize it and make it safer overall for people that it really matters for.

Here are some best practices to consider.

Provide Pronoun Stickers

I’d recommend providing stickers for:

  • she / her
  • he / him
  • they / them
  • ask me!
  • a fill-in-the-blank option for folks who use other pronouns

It might also be helpful for the different pronoun stickers to be different colors so people can use color as a visual cue for the right pronouns for someone from a distance.

Pronoun stickers at FooCamp using Justine Arreche’s sticker template — they stickers are red, she stickers are blue, he stickers are green, and fill in the blank stickers are purple.

Justine Arreche provided files for a set of pronoun stickers along these lines, which you can download here.

Ask me pronoun stickers are important to include, because for some people, the pronouns they choose to share with people may depend on the audience or they may just not want to advertise their pronouns.

Fill-in-the-blank stickers are also important, because some people use pronouns other than she/he/they (check out Pronoun Island for examples of other pronouns, as well as how to use them).

There is some risk that transphobic jokes may be made by people by writing joke pronouns into the blank sticker, but this is where a solid Code of Conduct, education around it, and enforcement of it are really important. And yes, I have seen this happen at conferences and gone unchallenged. It sucks.

The bad behavior of transphobes shouldn’t be a reason to exclude people who use pronouns other than she/he/they, though.

Place Stickers in an Obvious Location

Pronoun stickers should be located where people pick up their name badges, not on a table in the corner where most people will breeze right past them. This is especially important for organizers encouraging folks to grab one as soon as they have their badge in hand.

Educate People on Why Pronouns Are Important

Folks handing out name badges to people should mention the pronoun stickers to attendees, gently encouraging them to consider grabbing one, and be prepared to answer questions for people that aren’t familiar with sharing their pronouns. There should also be a sign explaining to folks why they should consider sharing their pronouns.

Here’s the text I provided one conference for an educational sign — please feel free to use it for your own conference:

Consider grabbing a pronoun sticker!
Even if you think your pronouns are “obvious”, by adding a pronoun sticker to your badge you can help normalize sharing pronouns and provide a safer space for transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary attendees to share theirs.
It’s important to respect people’s pronouns. If you use the wrong pronouns for someone, just apologize, correct yourself, and move on. If you see someone else use the wrong pronouns for someone, please speak up.

Organizers Should Set an Example

It’s important for the organizers and volunteers to set a good example by having pronoun stickers on their name badges, as long as they are comfortable with it (conference organizers and volunteers themselves may be in a similar position to attendees, and may not want to share their pronouns, and they should not be forced to do so).

I largely say this because I have seen plenty of cis organizers who don’t bother because their pronouns are “obvious”, but it’s important to set a good example. You’d think this would be obvious, but trust me, it’s not to everyone.

Organizers should also remind attendees to respect people’s pronouns in the opening remarks.

Don’t Make Pronoun Sharing Mandatory

You might be thinking: “Wait, why don’t we just make everyone tell us their pronouns — that would make this way easier, right? We could just print them on the badges, and we could screen for transphobic behavior before it becomes an issue…”

Just stop. No, it won’t make this easier, no it won’t stop transphobic behavior (trust me on this), and if anything, you might harm transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary attendees by making pronouns mandatory.

People may not be out yet. They might only be out in some groups. Their pronouns might change. They might use multiple pronouns. Or maybe they don’t know what the conference group will be like, and before outing themselves to their fellow attendees, they might want to get a feel for how safe they are at your conference.

So, please don’t make sharing pronouns mandatory at your conference.

T-Shirts

Often conferences and/or vendors at conferences give out t-shirts. Unfortunately, t-shirts are framed in a male-as-default (a.k.a. unisex) or very binary way (men’s and women’s). This obviously isn’t great, and is also something that is largely dictated by t-shirt manufactures at this time. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do!

Describe T-Shirts by Their Cut

My recommendation is to shift the language to the cut style. For example, “men’s”/“unisex” t-shirts are a more boxy cut, while “women’s” t-shirts are more curvy or fitted. This one small language shift can make a big difference and signal that inclusivity is a priority at your conference, to both attendees and vendors.

Just make sure to provide sizing guidance for folks, since curvy style shirts tend to run much smaller than boxy style shirts, and to also provide t-shirts in the smallest and largest sizes available so you can be as size inclusive as possible.

Skip the T-Shirts

Consider skipping the conference t-shirts entirely. Monitorama, for example, gives out super cool socks that many more folks can appreciate!

This is also a great option for folks with larger chests who may not appreciate graphics on the t-shirt drawing attention to their chests, or folks who sizing may be an issue for.

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Everyone just wants to pee in peace, right?

Hopefully the venue your conference is at is hip enough to have nothing but gender neutral bathrooms available. But even if it’s not, you’re not necessarily out of options to provide a safer space for transgender / genderqueer / non-binary attendees.

Single Stall? You’re In Luck!

If the bathroom is single stall, but has a binary sign on it, this is easy — just slap a gender neutral sign on it! Easy peasy.

I do recommend using signs that indicate the facilities available, such as a toilet or toilet and urinal, and simply state that the facilities are gender neutralor are for all genders. There are some signs that try to be funny by saying something like whichever, we don’t care, but that can actually be dismissive to the very real issues trans folks face with bathrooms and be hurtful.

Inclusive Signage on Binary Bathrooms

So maybe you can’t make your binary bathrooms gender neutral. But you could add some inclusive signage to your binary bathroom signs to let folks know that they should use whichever bathroom they are most comfortable with, and that people should not be policing the bathroom that people choose to use:

While this bathroom is binary, <conference name> recognizes that people aren’t. Please use the bathroom you feel most comfortable with.
If you think someone is in the wrong bathroom, please leave them alone. We’re all here for the same reason and they have chosen the bathroom they are most comfortable in.

And if there are gender neutral bathrooms available elsewhere, I also recommend adding their location to the sign you put on the binary bathrooms.

You can also find gender neutral bathrooms <location>.

Providing Directions to Attendees

Providing information about the bathrooms to attendees with maps and signs, and doing so via email, your program book (if you have one), your website, and verbally helps not only transgender / genderqueer / non-binary attendees, but also people with health issues or those in need of accessible bathrooms.

Prioritizing Limited Gender Neutral Bathrooms

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to wait for the gender neutral bathroom somewhere because a cis guy was using it to take his time with a newspaper or book. I wish I was joking, but after standing outside my only bathroom option for 10+ minutes, I promise you, I’m not. This isn’t just a problem for trans folks, but often is a huge problem for people who need an accessible bathroom (because gender neutral bathrooms are often accessible ones as well).

Consider putting a sign on the bathroom asking people to consider using the gendered bathrooms to keep the limited gender neutral accessible bathroom available for people who need it most.

If you are comfortable with using the binary gender bathrooms, please consider doing so! We appreciate you keeping gender neutral and accessible bathrooms free for those who need them most!

Affinity Groups

Promoting and supporting an LGBTQIAP+ affinity group for your conference, including a mailing list or chat room, and sponsoring a meet-up of attendees in that affinity group, can be helpful. It’s best if this is community driven, but the event should make it clear that they will provide support to this group.

Speaker Q&A

If there is a Q&A portion of a panel or presentation at a conference, speakers might call on attendees by describing who is next. This might result in misgendering of attendees, since often people will describe others by including the gender they assume for that person.

For example:

  • “the gentleman in the Wonder Woman t-shirt”
  • “the lady in the blue dress”

Rather than assuming someone’s gender, speakers should remove gender from the sentence. This is actually much easier than people realize.

For example:

  • “the person in the Wonder Woman t-shirt with brown hair”
  • “the person in the blue dress with glasses”

This small step can help avoid misgendering people by removing gendered assumptions.

If speakers alternate between men and women during the Q&A to try to ensure a gender balance, then they should note that people who do not identify with the gender binary should feel free to raise their hand with either group.

Code of Conduct & Enforcement

What I said in my original post stands:

  • your event should have a comprehensive code of conduct (and you should consult a professional when developing this)
  • organizers should actively communicate about it with the community via multiple mediums
  • organizers should be appropriately trained on enforcing that code of conduct

If someone has an issue at a conference, it should be incredibly simple and crystal clear how they can seek assistance and feel like they’ll be supported when they do ask for help. And it should be made crystal clear to attendees that transphobia and harassment will not be tolerated at your event.

Want help with your code of conduct and training on how to enforce it? I highly recommend Sage Sharp of Otter Tech.