By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
Get an email from the YMCA of Montclair, and you may notice a small, important detail on the sender’s signature line.
Under Suzanne Broullón signature name, there’s the information you might have seen from any group, at any time in the past. Her signature tells you she’s the marketing and communications director. It tells you the YMCA’s address, on Park Street. Its website. Broullón’s phone number and extension.
It also tells you Broullón goes by she, her and hers.
It’s a measure meant to help recipients avoid assumptions, from an organization mindful not all those it serves identify by the genders they were assigned at birth, or by any binary gender classifications at all.
“In terms of policies translated into action, our Y has removed gender from our membership application and we have created a gender-neutral bathroom option at our Park Street YMCA,” Suzanne Broullón, marketing and communications director, wrote in an email. “The Y welcomes all. We strive to make our facility and programs friendly and positive for all our members.”
It’s the sort of step groups including Out Montclair, a charitable nonprofit organization founded by Montclair Township Councilman Peter Yacobellis this year, would like to see more organizations and individuals take. To that end, in April, Out Montclair, Garden State Equality, CAN Community Health and the Trans Affirming Alliance together hosted a community discussion in late April, on pronoun use.
“It was important to create something that would kind of live on,” Yacobellis, Montclair’s first openly gay elected official, said. “We thought that it was a really good training opportunity for any employer in town who wants to take a look at it, for any parents who want to try and understand what’s going on with their kids, for any other allies who just want to understand the issue more.”
More than 100 people attended, he said.
“There was obviously a lot of real interest around it and people felt it was the right kind of content,” Yacobellis said.
But what’s so important about pronouns, and why does how they’re used matter so much to LGBTQ community?
For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary and transgender people, being addressed by an assumed “he” or “she” can cause stress and anxiety if they don’t identify as such, Dana Delgardo a family nurse practicioner with CAN Community Health, said at the April event. Some people use different pronouns than others might assume from aspects of their gender expression, such as an individual’s appearance or name; some use no binary gender identification at all, and use the pronoun “they.”
“It is oftentimes very confusing for people because our unconscious biases are there,” Celeste Fiore, one of the founders of the Trans Affirming Alliance said at at the event. But when “we’re dealing with other human beings, those pronouns and our names have to matter,” Fiore, who uses the pronouns they and them, said.
“It’s like we’re speeding through life, and we don’t want to actually stop and read the signs that other people are trying to give us or to tell us, but that’s how we run into accidents and that’s how we get into accidents,” Fiore said. “So, if we just take a step back, try to check our biases and ask.”
A 2018 study by The University of Texas in Austin, found that among transgender youth, use of the correct pronouns and chosen names reduced the risk of suicide and depression.
Some other groups in Montclair are working toward a more inclusive approach to pronoun use as well.
The Salvation Army Montclair Citadel Corps doesn’t have a specific policy on pronoun use, but encourages the employees to identify in their preferred pronouns if they wish.
“The Salvation Army is one of the largest non-government providers of services to the LGBTQ community,” Maj. Brett DeMichael, commanding officer of the Montclair Corps, said. “We are also proud to be an Equal Opportunity Employer, and we welcome and encourage a diverse workforce because it helps us to better serve a diverse community.”
Out Montclair hasn’t generally worked directly with organizations and businesses on pronoun policies, focusing more on education than activism, Yacobellis said.
The group is continuing its efforts to educate the community and build safe spaces for LGBTQ-identified individuals through a series of events in June, Pride Month. Those include participation in the Planned Parenthood’s Spring Stir on June 2; a Progressive Pride Flag (inclusive of black and brown colors, as well as the light blue, pink and white used to signal support for the transgender community) raising at town hall June 4; participation in a “Pride Shabbat” celebration at Temple Ner Tamid with an open-mic concert also on June 4; an “Out at Night” gathering for those 21 and over at Egan & Sons on June 16; and a pizza social for teens on June 22.
It’s also planning a first-ever Montclair Pride Festival for next year.
Yacobellis this month is asking the Township Council to consider a package of ordinances and a resolution called the LGBTQ Equality Agenda for 2021. They include new protections against discrimination based on gender identity, protections against discrimination in contractor arrangements and third-party hiring, and a requirement that most single-user bathrooms in town be all-gender. A resolution would affirm the Township Council’s opposition to conversion therapy for children — meant to change a child’s sexual orientation — and its support for a 2012 New Jersey law that banned the practice.
“That’s going to even further strengthened support for the broader LGBT community, but in particular, the transgender community to protect them on the basis of discrimination,” Yacobellis said. “When I introduced the bathroom bill, for example, it’s going to require all businesses among Montclair to make their single-user restrooms ‘gender neutral.’ That’s sending a signal about how we feel as a township.”