‘They’ Create Controversy in Australia

An initiative to encourage the use of non-gender-specific language by the government of Victoria, Australia’s second most-populous state, has caused public outcry and been labeled as “ugly, authoritarian language control,” according to The Australian.

As part of the promotion of “They Day,” by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services on the first Wednesday of every month, government employees are being asked to avoid using “gendered” language and instead use pronouns such as “they” or “them” to encourage acceptance of gender-fluidity, but critics have attached he move. Parnell McGuiness, a communications specialist, is calling it bullying on Australia’s Sky News.

A DHSS spokeswoman said the campaign “is about improving understanding, respect and inclusiveness within the Department, and feedback from staff has been positive”.

The video did not receive government or departmental funding, she added.

Dale Park, co-convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, told SBS News the campaign was crucial in helping to break down gender identity barriers.

“No-one likes being referred to by the wrong gender. Using the gender and pronoun someone identifies with shows respect and is the decent thing to do,” he said.

“Most people would have grown up with a rigid view of gender and may not have not met people who identify as gender non-binary or use they/them pronouns. Therefore it is vital that these terms and why they are so important to people is explained.”

They Day is an initiative of the department’s Pride Network. In 2016, Victoria published an Inclusive Language Guide to encourage public employees to “avoid using heteronormative language” such as “husband” and “wife”.

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