LGBTIQA+ and Legal Aspects of the Use of Personal Pronouns

For long, my excellent colleagues in the equal opportunities team have worked with personal pronouns at our university. As an employe and education providers, we must work with active measures related to the Swedish seven discrimination grounds. The use of personal pronouns is related to discrimination about gender, gender identity and gender expression. My understanding is that students, and others, experience it problematic when addressed incorrectly. For example, if they identify themselves as a woman, or non-binary and their legal gender is male, they might experience problems. Some teachers will address them in mails etc. with the wrong personal pronoun which they find offensive and even discriminating. This experienced problem related to personal pronouns and their use became even more evident at the Gotland Pride festival, where we organised an LGBTIQA+ workshop with students, see this blog post. Hence, it might be discrimination if someone consciously uses the wrong personal pronoun when they know the correct personal pronoun.

However, my colleagues who have worked with this experience that it is quite complicated to get a clear answer from the authorities in charge of discrimination and storage of information regarding personal pronouns and possible solutions. One possible solution that the students at Gotland pride suggested would be to do a round of presentations with personal pronouns at the start of a course or meeting. When asked if it is OK to do a round of presentations with personal pronouns at the start of a student course, the legal experts answered that this is not recommended. A person has the right to provide confidential information about themselves (e.g. someone has told that they are binary). Consequently, if a student voluntarily wishes to specify the personal pronoun, it is up to that person. However, they think it is inappropriate for the university to organize a name and personal pronoun round because it can feel very compelling for a young person. It also opens up for mistreatment from classmates, the experts from the authorities claim.

Another possible measure would be to voluntary store a personal pronoun or similar in the study administration IT systems, which was also suggested at the Gotland Pride workshop. Teachers could then use this to know what personal pronouns to use. But that does not seem to be OK either from a legal perspective. Here you run into problems is the storage of sensitive personal information and data about people’s health and sexuality, which is generally covered by secrecy laws according to the authorities. Hence, storing personal pronouns in the IT systems is not a recommended option either.

The measures to promote the correct use of personal pronouns seems to be tricky to find, and we will continue working on this on a national level to get clear answers.

RFSL has worked with recommendations related to LGBTIQA+ that are very useful, they are found here. Also, some good news is that the equal opportunities people at the Student Affairs and Academic Registry Division have worked on recommendations and guidelines related to LGBTIQA+ for teachers. Here much broader issues are addressed than the use of personal pronouns. These are still working documents, but hopefully, they will be officially available soon and can be used as discussion grounds, information and in educations for teachers. More information will come related to this!