bron lewis

queer activist, technologist, writer, hacker

Real talk: being trans and asking for permission to exist comfortably in this world can be fucking exhausting, and to have to be the one educating people constantly while also worrying about where you can safely pee or being constantly misgendered really sucks.

So this is a call-out post. Specifically, this is a call-out post to cis folks who attend tech conferences, but really this applies to any cis folks in any spaces. Do you want to be an ally to trans folks? Here's a place you can start: start demanding more of the spaces you inhabit, and particularly, demand more of the conferences you attend. Stop relying on trans folks to step in and do all of the work.

Here are some specific things you, as a cis person, should be pro-actively asking for at every conference you attend:

Demand gender neutral bathrooms

Ask for gender neutral bathrooms. Ask for their existence, but even just ask for existing signage to be updated -- even if only temporarily -- to provide safer bathroom spaces for trans/non-binary/genderqueer folks. Ask that this be publicized at the conference.

Here's an example of what you might say to a conference organizer:

I was wondering if you could let me know what gender neutral bathroom facilities are available at the conference venue, and how those will be communicated with attendees? It's really important to me for folks in the trans/non-binary/genderqueer community to feel included and safe while attending this event.

Normalize sharing pronouns

Normalize sharing pronouns by doing it yourself, and asking conferences to support this. This means conferences should be providing pronoun stickers or ribbons, markers for folks to add pronouns to their name badges if stickers/ribbons aren't an option, signage to explain why this is important, and being inclusive of not just they/them pronouns, but also neo-pronouns.

Here's an example email I sent to a conference organizer explaining the importance of supporting and normalizing pronoun sharing at their conference:

Any chance pronoun stickers could be something provided in the future? It's a really simple and low cost way for a conference to be more inclusive and to help folks avoid misgendering others. A lot of folks 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 trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people in particular (and is often something they deal with every day already). Even if you only have one or two trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer folks at the conference, by encouraging everyone to share pronouns it helps normalize it and make it safer overall for people that it really matters for.

Another option might also be if there is space on the name badge for conference organizers to encourage folks to write their pronouns on the name badge (providing markers, doing it themselves on their own badges, and encouraging folks at the badge collection table to do so as well).

Conferences of all sizes and means have started doing this across the board. For example, USENIX provides pronoun ribbons for their attendees at all of their conferences, and the Non-Profit Software Development Summit encouraged folks to write their pronouns on their name badges. Even Google is doing this now at Google I/O.

Require more comprehensive Code of Conducts

Demand a comprehensive code of conduct, ask conference organizers to actively communicate about it with the community, and ask that conference organizers ensure they are 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.