Creating a Safe Zone

As a part of this Pride Month, I participated in CSU’s Safe Zone training through our Pride Resource Center. It was a great learning experience and an opportunity to discuss issues, particularly related to gender diversity with colleagues across CSU. Below were some of our discussion points.

  • Sex assigned at birth: When babies are born their sex is assigned to them based on their genitals. Some babies born have ambiguous genitals and are intersex, but often even intersex babies are assigned male or female when they are born. This is one’s sex assigned at birth. It is not the same as gender, even though they are often incorrectly conflated.
  • Gender identity: One’s gender identity consists of whether a person considers themselves a man, a woman, a blend, or neither. Those whose gender falls outside the man-woman binary sometimes use the label nonbinary or gender nonconforming. Gender and sex assigned at birth are not the same thing. Gender reveal parties, for example, are problematic in the way that people assume we know the gender of a person when we can identify their sex assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender: Cisgender people are folks whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth, so a cisgender man is a person whose gender identity is man and he was assigned ‘male’ at birth.
  • Gender expression: Gender expression is how one presents their gender to others. Some people who are nonbinary may present as feminine sometimes and masculine at other times.
  • Sexual orientation: One’s sexual orientation refers to the gender(s) a person tends to be sexually attracted to.
  • Romantic orientation: One’s romantic orientation refers to the gender(s) a person tends to be romantically attracted to.

What does this mean for us in the biomedical sciences and in veterinary medicine?

The implications for this understanding is to make sure we don’t make assumptions about each other’s identities, including conflating sex assigned at birth with gender. We should share our pronouns with each other so that we don’t misgender people. Being misgendered is harmful, particularly for folks who are not cisgender.

In veterinary medicine, we should be careful about our language. Words like “male” and “female” are appropriate when referencing the sex of animals, but often inappropriate when referencing people’s gender. When talking about people’s genders, we should use the language that a person uses to self-identify their own gender, e.g., “I identify as a woman.”

For those whose work relates to human health, these issues are important to understand and incorporate into research and teaching. This understanding comes into play in human clinical trials. How are we considering equity and inclusion in the language we use around demographic questions related to gender and sex in participants? What assumptions might we be making that could alienate some people?

To learn more, check out the resources at The Pride Resource Center or check out The Genderbread Person. As we come to the end of Pride Month, let’s challenge ourselves to keep learning and making our community more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive for LGBTIQ+ students, staff, and faculty.