This month BBH celebrates Pride and how far the LGBTQ+ community has come, but it is also a stark reminder of how far there is to go in raising awareness. One key aspect of educating people is highlighting the use of inclusive language that respects people of different genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, disabilities, and other identities to create greater feelings of belonging. Inclusive language is being thoughtful about the words we use to honor their identities and make people feel recognized, respected, and welcome no matter their lived experiences.
JP Ryan, Assistant Vice Principal Global Security, shares his journey from LGBTQ+ ally to advocate, navigating LGBTQ+ language and ultimately finding support and community in the BBH Pride Network.
Adopting Inclusive Language
Using inclusive language has become commonplace in my family over the last couple of years since my oldest child, Finn, talked to my wife and I about being non-binary and wanted to use the pronouns they/them. At first it was hard referring to my oldest as they/them and I had a lot of questions myself … is my child too young to know this about themselves … is this just a phase … what are they going to have to go through? As I learned more about inclusive language and why my oldest wanted to be referred to as they/them it all made sense. We realized that what really mattered was that Finn knew they would be loved unconditionally, and that having a non-binary child was not about us or our parenting but rather about Finn’s identity, who they are as a person.
As time went on inclusive language started being a part of our everyday vocabulary. Did I make mistakes? Oh Yes, I made a lot of mistakes, and I still do at times, but it’s a learning process. I apologize, correct myself and move on. There are times I don’t catch myself, but Finn is not shy to nicely correct me in private or public.
This year they came up to my wife and I and asked to be called Finn instead of Fiona, because they felt Finn was more unisex than Fiona—but still close to their given name. We explained to Finn that they were too young to change their name legally but could use Finn as a nickname for now. Finn also asked if they could tell their teacher and classmates. My wife and I thought it best to give it a couple weeks, to get used to the name change but the next day we had an email from their teacher asking if they could be called Finn. My wife and I laughed and were proud because at 11 years old this kid wasn’t going to have others define them. I wish I had their strength and courage when I was 11 years old!
From Ally to Advocate
As I started learning more about inclusive language and the LGBTQ+ community, I realized there wasn’t that much support for this community in my town. As Chair of the Library Trustees, I was trying to think of ways kids, like my child, who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, could feel seen, supported, and safe in our town.
Each June, the library typically put out a book display for Pride month, but I wanted to do more to raise awareness around the diverse range of identities and expressions of gender and sexual orientation within the LGBTQ+ community. I brought up the idea of holding a Drag Queen Storytime to the other Trustees to send a clear signal to the LGBTQ+ Community in our town that the library is here for them and to have a little light-hearted fun along the way.
I knew the library would receive some push back because of this event, but I was not ready for the intensity of the push back and the personal attacks I would experience. Amidst all the unpleasantness, some anonymous and some very direct, there was also a lot of support. I knew we had to forge ahead and send clear safety signals to the LGBTQ+ youth among us.
Finding Community with the Pride Network
Confronting the head on opposition to the Drag Queen Storytime took its toll on me. I was having such a hard time navigating this situation and it began to have a negative impact on my work. During a meeting with my manager, we discussed what was going on and he reached out to the Pride Network to support me. I knew of the Pride Network, but I thought you had to be a member of the community to join. I was so wrong! Ray Cyr and Kimberly Edwards were so supportive and helpful to me and my family. Kimberley even came to the event to support me in person. The event was a resounding success and sent positive and affirming messages about the LGBTQ+ community.
This experience taught me that none of us can go it alone. We all need support, and we can all continue to learn. When I was asked to join the Boston Pride leadership team this year I jumped at the opportunity. I want to be there for other employees the way the Pride Network was there for me.