A lesson from little league: inclusive language is about empathy, not stifling free speech
How to use inclusive language in 2021

I have a little Connecticut story.

One of the twins, has developed a passion for baseball since we moved to New Fairfield, CT in February.  At first, I thought it was about wearing the uniform but no: he truly loves the game. So, I find myself at baseball practice and games twice a week reading French books on a foldable chair as the other parents scream obscure things to their kids. I often drag my feet a little: it is not my scene. The coach, a wonderful volunteer dad, had this habit of calling “Mom and Dad” over for tips about equipment or practicing at home at the end of the game. Every time I felt a pang. I was afraid Eitan would feel the same. It also reminded me that I was the oddball among straight CT natives. Because you see I have a chip on my shoulder: I don’t know anything about baseball, I am terrible at throwing and I am afraid of coming up short with my kids on athletics. I also fear the other parents see me as the snobbish foreign gay dad. My ex pointed out that “Mom and Dad” was probably the result of moms highlighting they were also present and so that it was progress in itself.

Anyway, the coach gathered by himself that Eitan had two dads and the next time at practice he said “Mom and Dad, Dad and Dad or whatever.” It made me happy. Now I am 43 years old, I like to think of myself as intellectual and cosmopolitan, as someone who, after some adversity, has become sturdy, but that language adjustment by the coach made me teary-eyed. And I think Eitan liked it too. It made me more interested in the game and in the other parents, maybe because I got a glimpse that it could actually become my scene if I wanted it to.

This week I was thinking about this story in parallel with three controversies over inclusive language. First, the controversy over Stonewall’s stance on anti-trans speech. Then a weird 2018 interview in which a man lectures the TV anchor on gender assumptions. And finally, the recent ban on inclusive writing in France. What do these events have in common with little league?

Free speech and the Stonewall UK controversy. Last week the tensions between Stonewall UK and the anti-trans movement in the country culminated with government agencies abruptly leaving Stonewall. Nancy Kelley, the organization’s CEO compared trans hate speech to anti-Semitism leading to a backlash from critics. This post by former NHS trust chief executive Kate Grimes, “Working with Stonewall is no longer compatible with NHS values”, best summarizes the point of view of the opposition to Stonewall.

This weird viral French interview – now three years old  – embodies the risks of a dogmatic, self-righteous, and radical approach to inclusive language. In it, the spokesperson of a leading French LGBTQ+ organization chastises his interviewer for having assumed he was a man with a tone connotating his contempt. This does not prevent the spokesperson from making similar assumptions about the journalist’s gender who he calls “Monsieur” several times after his diatribe. Instead of an opportunity to educate the public on non-binarity, the show led to a massive backlash in French society. Here is also a link to the response of the TV anchor and a think piece at the time.

And finally, a third development, perhaps not completely unrelated, is that the French legislator just banned inclusive writing from schools. The French language “is already sufficiently complex”, the Minister of Education explained in an interview. He added that inclusive writing “ideologize(s) the language. The language should not be a fight.” Conservative newspaper, Le Figaro, welcomed the decision as a victory for freedom of speech.

Now to me, these three examples are distractions – like most of the headlines or what goes viral in 2021 – from the essential. The outrage on free speech is taking away the public from reflecting on what small steps it can take to make life easier for those at the margin.

The essential is that as a society we must strive to accommodate difference even when it is uncomfortable, even when it means making efforts, and particularly when it concerns the most vulnerable among us. Not to be self-righteous too but in the words of Ghandi: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

 

On June 23rd at 3 p.m. London time / 10 a.m. EST I will join a practical webinar with D&I leader Perrine Farque as we explore how you can use inclusive language in 2021 to attract and retain top diverse talent. Join us by registering at https://lnkd.in/dcdc7Sy

A lesson from little league: inclusive language is about empathy, not stifling free speech 1 A lesson from little league: inclusive language is about empathy, not stifling free speech 2

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