A grid displaying the pronoun illustration options offered on the Proud Pronoun Project website. // Courtesy of VMLY & R

It’s the season of pride, and therefore, the rainbow wash season in business. Think: All those companies pouring not-so-surreptitiously money into hate groups and anti-LGBTQ + politicians, then putting a rainbow over their profile photos are coming June 1 in a bald move to earn money. money selling products to the queer population.

This year, the marketing and communications company VMLY & R is looking inward and out to all of us to bring our actions together with the Proud Pronoun Project.

At the project site, you select your pronouns and receive a vibrant illustration for free, which can be used as a Zoom background, on social media profiles, and even as a LinkedIn banner so people in your personal and professional circles know how to refer to you .

The website currently features 25 illustrations, created by Kansas City-based LGBTQ + artists. Lauren Phillips (her and Frank Norton (he / him), with the possibility to submit your pronouns if they have not yet been added. The project website also offers quick explanations of personal gender pronouns (PGS) and links to well-known resources for further learning. Today and every day, the Proud Pronoun Project wants everyone to show their pronouns with the illustrations.

Proud Paul Pronoun Project

Paul Boupha (he / him) using a personal gender pronoun illustration from the Proud Pronoun Project. // Courtesy of VMLY & R

The Proud Pronoun Project is not VMLY & R’s first initiative to discuss queer culture and acceptance. Paul Boupha (he / him) is the project’s senior writer based at the agency’s headquarters in New York. Previously, he had invited drag queens to the office for a discussion on the intersections of Asain’s identity, anti-Asian hate crimes, and homosexuality. Next, the employees at VMLY & R wanted to imagine a project that would eliminate the embarrassment of discussing PGP in the workplace.

“Standardization is such a big part of the reason we wanted to make [the Proud Pronoun Project], especially for the business world, ”Boupha explains. “Even presenting this to our elders and others for instinctive checking, they don’t know – especially the allies – they don’t know gender pronouns and their importance. And having the background to them just starts that conversation and educates them. So they set the background themselves, and it just keeps snowballing, and more and more people are talking about it, and it’s becoming more and more normal. “

April Marshall (she / she) is a member of the board and team of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion division of VMLY & R, with a focus on supporting neuro-diverse employees and clients. As a transgender woman who made the transition during her job, Marshall became the artistic director of the project and provided feedback on the sensitivity.

“We bring things home from work all the time,” says Marshall. “Stress, work, everything else. Well let’s start having something good that we take from work.

Marshall points to staggering unemployment rates among transgender communities. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in four transgender people have lost their jobs due to workplace discrimination, sexual and physical abuse, and harassment, all of which disproportionately affect trans people of color.

“People just want to make a living,” says Marshall. “And when we have these levels of unemployment because [we] cannot be accepted in the workplace, we see people being pushed into sex work. I’m not at all ashamed of sex work, but when you’re pushed into it as your only option, or you’re pushed into crime or drugs, then yes we have a real problem.

When cisgender allies (a person whose gender matches their medically assigned sex at birth) show up with their PGPs or include them in an electronic signature, they not only create a safer workspace for trans, gender mavericks and non-binaries. people, but engage in meaningful ways with their own gender identities and various forms of cisgender privilege.

With a surge in awareness of the transgender community and identities outside of the male-female binary in recent years, adding pronouns to your Twitter bio may not seem so overwhelming. Gen-Z is the strangest generation on record, not because queer people are stepping out of the ether or because queer identity is “trending,” but because we generally feel more secure. But Kansas City-based Marshall reminds us that there’s still a lot to do in places like the Midwest.

April Proud Pronoun Project

April Marshall (her / her) using a personal gender pronoun illustration from the Proud Pronoun Project. // Courtesy of VMLY & R

Marshall has been the victim of violent hate crimes – she’s had a bottle thrown in her head in public and receives threatening messages on Facebook, like a DM telling her to “go die in a fire”. She is still afraid to leave the house sometimes.

“[This Project is] need a lot in the Midwest. You know, we’re more progressive than we used to be, but not as progressive as we would like, ”Marshall says.

Marshall and Boupha are already seeing the impact of illustrations on their workplaces, as they have both become more aware of their non-binary colleagues.

“I think opening up and discovering more non-binary people, and different types of people, really opened my eyes and made me feel good,” Boupha says. “Someone really, really high up [was] saying, “Yeah, so kid, they identify as non-binary, but I don’t really know what that means.” But having a project like this makes them feel seen. So let me share this with them. And I want to know more about it. These kinds of little things that started to snowball, and I can’t imagine what this conversation will turn out to be when this parent shows their child this. [project]. “

Throughout development, the Proud Pronoun project team has collaborated with many people from all over the world and from the LGBTQ + broad spectrum.

“We have also [didn’t] want to work in a vacuum, ”says Boupha. “We also asked people around the world, from Germany to Asia, what they think, how their countries react to gender pronouns.”

Working with people in Germany, for example, the team learned that common non-binary pronouns used in English, such as sie and em, have their roots in German.

In the end, this rambling labor of love initiative is far bigger than a shot of corporate pride that dies at the end of June. Boupha sees the current iteration of the project as a one-point-oh version, with room for growth as the language changes and evolves across the world.

“I think the natural progression, because we’ve talked globally, is to give that as a framework for [communities] in other regions to really expand, and really adapt it to their regions, their people and their cultures, because they know it better than we do.

Marshall, clearly stating her horror of corporate pimping and rainbow washing, is thrilled to create something evergreen. Even though the project touches the life of one queer person, she thinks it has done its job.

“Studies have shown,” she adds, “that even having one person accepting can make the difference in self-harm, ending your own life.”

Being trans means going out repeatedly – Marshall has to show up over and over again, even when she takes her pet to a vet who doesn’t know she’s changed her name. But the trans identity is anything but a one-dimensional story arc coming out of the closet.

“I’m a human. I have a carpentry shop. I was a professional wrestler for 16 years. I can start a fire primitively and run in heels. I’m a dynamic and diverse person. And I help sell dog food for Hills. Iran Rocky horror live screenings at KC for eight years. I used to teach outdoor camping and survival lessons. And I had to hide that I was terrified of snakes. Marshall said, “If [the Proud Pronoun Project] helps to humanize, it’s amazing.



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