The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services’ Pride Network has backed a new campaign encouraging people to use gender-neutral language, including personal pronouns such as “they” and “them”.
A video released in June by the department highlighted how limiting gendered and binary pronouns can be.
Dr Son Vivienne, one of the participants in the video, said everyone could benefit from using gender-neutral pronouns.
“I like it when people refer to me as ‘they’ because it feels true to myself,” they said.
“I think the space to imagine yourself without the constrictions of either masculine or feminine is huge, and for children in particular the potential to grow and be rich and complex people who are different selves on different days is also one of the things I like about ‘they’.”
Principal adviser of wellbeing for the Department of Health, Nicole Lord, said the ‘They Day’ campaign would help people who didn’t identify with traditional gender pronouns to feel safe and comfortable.
“I’ve been in shops before, and people have turned around and said ‘hey, can I help you sir’… and that’s a bit awkward for them,” they said.
“So I think by learning to use other pronouns, they can just avoid those awkward situations.”
As with many things relating to gender diversity in recent years, it didn’t take long for the video and campaign to draw criticism from conservatives such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).
Victorian Director of the ACL, Dan Flynn, called the video “a shocking waste of departmental resources”, News Corp reported.
“It’s tragic that the Victorian public service can be used as a vehicle to encourage radical gender theory within the workforce, silencing those who believe in male and female gender,” he said.
Victorian Senate candidate for the Conservative Party, Kevin Bailey, said ‘They Day’ embedded gender ideology into everyday life in Victoria.
“It is indoctrination and must be resisted for the sake of sane discourse,” he tweeted.
In a column for the Herald Sun, Andrew Bolt said it wasn’t the business of the government or their public servants to tell people what to say.
“If the tiny, tiny proportion of people who seriously don’t like their pronoun want their colleagues to choose another, let them say so,” he said.
“To make millions of others walk on linguistic eggshells seems an overreaction – and one that gratifies bullies.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has said the video did not receive government or departmental funding, and that the ‘They Day’ event, where staff wore stickers with their preferred pronouns, was not compulsory.
A number of organisations and state governments have made recent advances when it comes to inclusive language and pronouns.
Earlier this year Qantas asked its staff to begin using gender neutral language with their customers, and in Queensland, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath commissioned a discussion paper into recognising sex and gender diversity which called for the option of gender neutral birth certificates.