Nov. 23—When Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez publicly announced the names of the five deceased victims of a mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub, he included the individuals' pronouns, as submitted by their families.
The action didn't go unnoticed by national media, and was noted as something that may not have been done in the past in the city that 30 years ago started a movement to ban legal protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
"It simply came down to showing the victims the respect they deserve by identifying them using the names and pronouns they and their loved ones used," Lt. Pamela Castro, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs police, said afterward.
"We are a victim-focused police department and try to represent victims with compassion and dignity," Castro said. "We believe that is what they and their families are owed, and we believe that is what we are doing here."
Pronouns — he/him, she/her and they/them — matter because they are considered a "symbol of safety" for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers and others in the community, said Liss Smith, spokesperson for Inside Out Youth Services, a Colorado Springs organization that supports LGBTQ+ teens and young adults.
"When someone introduces themselves with their pronouns, that means that's someone you can trust, someone who's familiar with using proper pronouns," she said.
When it comes to identifying people who were killed in the Nov. 19 mass shooting at Club Q off North Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs, naming preferred pronouns is a sign of respect, Smith said.
Studies also show that misgendering — referring to someone, particularly a transgender, using a pronoun or other word that doesn't reflect the person's gender with which they identify — can be detrimental to mental well-being.
Proper use of pronouns is considered a tool in suicide prevention, Smith said, and a source of empowerment for LGBTQ+ people.
"Identifiers are still misunderstood," she said. "It's such a small thing people can do to make people feel welcome and understood."
Yet in today's politically divided landscape, not everyone embraces being attentive to the use of pronouns. Teens Inside Out works with report difficulties in getting schools to acknowledge the use of students' preferred pronouns, when they change from what they had been using, Smith said.
Parents and religious groups also may oppose pronoun forms, saying schools are usurping parents' rights by calling students what they want at school and not notifying parents when students don't want their families to know.
Some states have had legal cases. A gym teacher sued his employer, the Loudoun County, Va., school district, arguing his free speech was violated when he was suspended for saying at a school board meeting that he wouldn't refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns. A judge ruled in his favor in August.
School districts in Utah and Massachusetts also have faced public debates over gender identity requests.
Court documents in the Club Q shooting case indicate that the suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, identifies as nonbinary, which describes a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman.
The motions filed by the legal defense, which were released to the public on Tuesday night, address Aldrich as "Mx. Aldrich," which is the title given to those who are considered nonbinary.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, nonbinary individuals could identify as being both a man and a woman, as somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside of these categories.
The group said while many also identify as transgender, not all nonbinary individuals do, and nonbinary may also be used as an umbrella term that encompasses identities, such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender-fluid.
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