Supporting your veterinary team begins with cultivating a more welcoming, diverse and inclusive workspace in which everyone can thrive.
“It has a huge impact to know that someone sees you for who you genuinely are and supports you in that,” says Dane Whitaker, DVM, MPVM, president of PrideVMC, of showing his alliance.
At the 2021 Virtual Veterinary Meeting and Exhibition (VMX), Whitaker with Abby McElroy, DVM, MS, President-elect of PrideVMC, and Deborah T. Kochevar, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, Board member of PrideVMC , discuss the importance of the alliance and how to “present themselves” to the LGBTQ + population. The trio highlights 3 methods to demonstrate your support in the veterinary community, and beyond.
Understanding the alliance
According to Kochevar, to be an ally and friend of LGBTQ + colleagues, it is essential to understand the key traits of what makes an ally. It highlights the following characteristics:
- Be an open-minded and caring listener.
- Recognize your privilege and use it for good.
- Ask informed questions and do your own research.
- Feeling at ease by being uncomfortable. You will make mistakes. Deal with it and move on.
- Speak out for the under-represented. Know what it means and how to do it.
- Make sure you don’t overshadow or occupy a queer person’s right to express themselves.
- Resist the need for validation.
- Diversify and expand your own and your children’s play and watch lists.
“When I think of being an ally and being a friend, these rules pretty much apply to all your interactions, it’s almost the golden rule,” Kochevar said. “If you feel like you are being treated well and behaving that way towards others, then you are generally on pretty solid ground.”
LGBTQ + terminology
McElroy says learning about and familiarizing yourself with common LGBTQ + terms is another great way to show off your alliance. Especially by using the terms correctly. “While people often put these [terms] together they are very different, ”she added.
To help, McElroy provided participants with common terms and their definitions:
- Gender identity: Your inner sense of yourself and your gender (eg female, female, girl, male, male, boy, other gender (s)).
- Gender expression: How you present your gender to the world (eg female, male, other).
- Sex assigned at birth: Usually based on a person’s external physical characteristics at birth (eg female, male, other / intersex).
- Physically attracted to: Your sexual orientation, which may or may not be the one that appeals to you emotionally (for example, women, men, other sex (s)).
- Emotionally attracted to: Your sexual orientation, which may or may not be the same as what you are physically attracted to (for example, women, men, other sex (s)).
“There are a lot of terms associated with the LGBTQ + community and we know they are confusing when you first discover the community. I think people get very worried about using the wrong term. We want to allay some of these fears and explain some of these terms, ”McElroy explained.
Appropriate use of pronouns
One of the most important things you can do to demonstrate your understanding of personal pronouns is to use pronouns correctly and address others with their correct pronouns. According to Whitaker, this action shows that you are aware of the importance of pronouns to the LGBTQ + community. “Respecting someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show that you respect their gender identity,” Whitaker said.
Additionally, he adds that although “they / them / their” are the most common gender neutral pronouns, it is crucial to keep in mind that sometimes people create their own pronouns.
To help participants practice an appropriate alliance, Whitaker described several general rules regarding the use of do’s and don’ts.
He advises getting into the habit of presenting yourself with your pronouns. This can be done in a variety of ways including verbal, written, or electronic signature, business card, or name tag in veterinary practice.
Not to do
Conversely, Whitaker urges not to embarrass others by asking for their pronouns unless you ask everyone, as some might not be as comfortable with their pronouns. Instead, it encourages you to conduct the conversation with your own pronouns, as this can invite others to follow along with their pronouns if they wish. He also mentions not to refer to your pronouns as “preferred pronouns”, as this implies that the use of these pronouns is optional.
Whitaker notes that it’s okay to make mistakes – they happen to everyone, and the best course of action if that happens is to apologize and move on. Gender privilege is not having to worry about which pronoun (s) someone will label you with to be an ally, it is essential to understand your privilege and stand up for others who may not have not the same.