By Leah Jalfon, MHWOW Program Manager
Why is it important to make our programs inclusive? Because as staff, residents, and hosts, we’ve committed to embodying the Moishe Mindset, and one of the core tenets of the Moishe Mindset is to value people.
“Value People: Let the spirit of hospitality permeate every part of the Moishe House universe. Commit to creating and maintaining an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respected for what they bring to our community.”
A bit about me: I identify as gay, and through MHWOW I started a meetup group here in Charlotte, North Carolina called Queer Jews of the Queen City. I’ve learned a lot about inclusivity since I’ve been hosting programs for the queer community, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned so that you too can create inclusive spaces.
The best way to train ourselves to be inclusive is not to make assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity based on the way they look, speak, or even what you previously know about them. People and their identities change and flow, and committing to inclusivity means going with that flow.
I’ve found most programs in my community to be inclusive of the L’s, the G’s, and the B’s, but unfortunately there’s a lot of work to be done to include the T’s and the +’s.
“Be trans-inclusive all the time — don’t make it something you “turn on” once you know a trans person is in a space.”
-Mey Valdivia Rude, Editor at Autostraddle, “16 Ways to Make Queer Women’s Spaces More Trans Women-Friendly”
“A question I’m often asked is if event organizers can rely on their LGBTQ communities to help make an event inclusive or bring in more diverse guests. While some people may volunteer, asking your LGBTQ community to help is actually putting the work back on them. Marginalized communities already experience emotional labor just by existing in this world. I believe it’s up to those in places of privilege (e.g., straight and/or cisgender events professionals) to put the work in ourselves. If you don’t feel like you have all the knowledge you need to make your event inclusive, do some research!”
–Jeffrey Huang, Senior Manager of Employee Engagement at Salesforce, How to Host and Foster LGBTQ and SOGI Inclusive Events
If the language and imagery on your event page, emails, and RSVP forms aren’t inclusive, someone could write off your program before they’ve even had the chance to check it out in person.
“On RSVP forms, you can ask for guests’ gender pronouns (e.g., he, she, they), but only ask for their gender if it’s necessary for the event. If asking for gender, your first instinct might be to include “male,” “female,” and “other” as the options — but for someone who is transgender or gender non-conforming, the term “other” can be reductive and make people feel excluded. (This is also a form of “othering”). Instead, provide a blank write-in field so guests can type in what they want for gender, and you can still capture the information you need.”
–Jeffrey Huang, How to Host and Foster LGBTQ and SOGI Inclusive Events
Evaluate the images you’re using. Do they depict mostly straight couples? I’m personally tired of young adult Jewish programs that are focused on marrying heterosexual Jews to each other.
Pronouns, Names, and Introductions
When bringing a group of people together that haven’t all met before, ask everyone to introduce themselves with their name and what pronouns they use. As the host, start first so that other people can follow your format. Example: My name is Leah, and the pronouns I use are she/her/hers. Getting this done sooner rather than later in the program minimizes the opportunities for people to make incorrect assumptions. Avoid framing pronouns as “preferred gender pronouns” or “PGPs” because this terminology implies that an individual’s pronouns are optional.
Here’s an example of what you can do if you accidentally refer to someone with incorrect pronouns.
“You are talking about someone who goes by “he/him” pronouns. “She is a great student. I’m sorry, I meant to say he is a great student. He’s been reading all of the assignments very thoroughly and it’s been a pleasure to work with him.” You don’t have to make a big deal out of your mistake or draw a lot of attention to it. You mostly need to fix it. You might have a follow up conversation with the person you referred to incorrectly to apologize or see if there’s something else you can do to correct it moving forward besides doing better. Making it a bigger deal in the moment is not necessarily helpful and could be harmful unless that’s what the person who was incorrectly referred to wants.”-From mypronouns.org
Avoid asking assumptive questions such as, “Why did your parents/family member give you that name?” These remarks can be uncomfortable for those who use a chosen name. Please do not ask people what their “real name” or “given name” is. Their name is what they say it is, period. More information on deadnaming here.
Be conscious of the language you’re using to address your group. Jeffrey Huang has some easy swaps to make your language more inclusive:
- Instead of “his” or “hers” → “theirs”
- Instead of “men” or “women” → “everyone”
- Instead of “guys” → “friends,” “folks,” “colleagues,” “team,” and “y’all” (“Y’all” isn’t just for Southerners anymore!)
- Instead of “ladies and gentlemen” → “distinguished guests”
Everyone at your program should be able to use the restroom that suits their gender identity, and the best practice is to make restrooms all gender. I personally like the term “all gender” rather than “gender neutral” because all gender celebrates all gender identities. At the beginning of the program, it’s helpful to publicly inform all participants of the location of the all gender restroom(s).
The following examples of the good, the OK, and the bad of restroom signage are all thanks to Jeffrey Huang of Salesforce.
“When it comes to all gender restroom signage, avoid those that show male or female figures as this plays into the heteronormative gender binary. If it’s wheelchair accessible, include the wheelchair pictogram. Go the extra mile by including Braille for those who need it.
The Good: These signs clearly show that it’s a restroom, and it’s accessible. (Fun fact: the triangle on top of a circle is the universal symbol for unisex restroom.)
The OK: Even though the one on the left says “all gender restroom,” it’s playing into the gender binary with the male and female pictograms. The sign on the right also shows a person in a wheelchair that’s smaller than the other figures, which can imply the person in the wheelchair is “less than” other people.
The Bad: This sign is bad for a couple reasons: the person in the wheelchair is clearly smaller than the other people, and it also includes a confusing third pictogram which can be mistakenly interpreted as a man in a dress. It’s best to avoid this third gender pictogram.”
What are you doing to make your programs more inclusive? Share with the MHWOW community in the MHWOW Facebook group or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moishe House is working on inclusivity as an organization, and we’re not perfect! If you have ideas for what we can do better, please reach out to us. Thank you for making your MHWOW programs queer inclusive!