Image: Screenshot from Pride Network YouTube
The Australian Christian Lobby and conservative media outlets are upset about a Victorian Department Of Health And Human Services (DHHS) decision to make the first Wednesday of every month “they day” as part of the department’s efforts to provide an inclusive workplace.
“They day” is meant to be inclusive for everyone, with staff choosing to be known by “he” or “she” or by gender neutral pronouns such as “they” and “them” instead. Employees are encouraged to use their colleagues preferred pronouns but it is not compulsory to do so.
A video campaign explaining the use of singular they/them pronouns was produced on behalf of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services Pride Network. The video features DHHS employees speaking about why gender-neutral pronouns are important for them.
"I love gender-neutral pronouns. I've been using them for maybe 10 years," senior policy officer Frankie Hipkins said in the video.
"What I love is that I think gender-neutral pronouns best reflect my gender identity so when people use them I feel really affirmed and really like myself."
In the video, post-doctoral research fellow at RMIT University, Dr Son Vivienne, said “I think we can all benefit from using gender-neutral pronouns. I think the space to imagine yourself without the constrictions of either masculinity or femininity are huge."
Jack Metcalfe, DHSS grants and policy officer, said “It gives people an opportunity to self-define and articulate how they want to be referred to and make space so their pronouns are legitimate and respected.”
The Australian Christian Lobby Victorian Director Dan Flynn slammed the initiative as an attack on those who believe in gender binarism. “It’s tragic that the Victorian public service can be used as a vehicle to encourage radical gender theory within the workforce, silencing those who believe in male and female gender.”
"The fact that the Department of Health and Human Services expects employees to participate in this campaign every month is coercive."
Victoria's Opposition spokesman Tim Smith also criticised the initiative, saying "The Department of Health needs to spend more time on running hospitals and less time on gendered pronouns."
A DHHS spokeswoman defended the campaign, saying it received no government or department funding and "is about improving understanding, respect and inclusiveness within the department and feedback from staff has been positive.”
Nicole Lord, principal adviser of wellbeing for the department, said the campaign would lead to a decline in mental health issues like depression for those who don't identify with traditional pronouns.
Whilst this initiative is causing controversy in Australia, overseas it's becoming more common to introduce gender neutral pronouns into society. In Sweden, the gender-neutral pronoun Hen was added to the dictionary in 2015.
When Malta achieved marriage equality last year, they made the institution of marriage fully gender neutral. References to "husband" and "wife" were replaced with the term "spouse", the terms "mother" and "father" become "parents" and lesbian couples having children via IVF or other medical interventions were to be referred to as "the person who gave birth" and "the other parent."
Britain has been increasingly moving towards becoming a genderless society, with 120 British schools introducing gender-neutral uniform policies and UK universities adopting gender-neutral language guidelines. The London Tube introduced gender neutral announcements in the middle of last year.