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Playing ze pronoun game

As Nicholas Gumas settles into his third year at George Washington University, he won’t just be asking incoming students for names, majors and hometowns. If the situation calls for it, he says he’ll ask for preferred gender pronouns, or PGPs.

To clarify their gender identity, students can request that others refer to them with traditional pronouns (he, him, his or she, her, hers), pick from a number of hybrid options, such as ze, hir, hirs, or use the plural pronoun “they” to refer to an individual.

As president of Allied in Pride, GW’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning organization, Gumas hosted the LGBTQ group’s first meeting, largely for freshmen, recently.

Freshmen “who come from progressive or urban areas may have been asked (for their PGPs) before, but others may not have,” he said.

Asking “is one of the easiest things you can do to help out the transgender population.”

While varying sexual orientations have recently gained acceptance in mainstream culture, varying gender identities have yet to be widely accepted. This became clear in August when news outlets reported on former U.S. soldier Bradley Manning’s decision to be referred to as a woman named Chelsea.

As the Human Rights Campaign’s associate director of youth and campus engagement, Candace Gingrich believes that saying “she,” “her” and “hers” when talking about Manning is less about extending courtesy than of practicing “basic human dignity.”

“You should respect how someone wants to be referred to,” Gingrich said.

In a recent survey of 10,000 LGBTQ youths ages 13 to 17, the Human Rights Campaign asked responders to identify their gender with male, female or transgender, leaving a blank space for alternative responses.

A thousand chose transgender, Gingrich said, and about 600 of them went on to fill in anything from “gender fluid” to “gender neutral” in the blank.

Now, Gingrich says, her organization uses the word “transgender” as a “starting point” or “umbrella term.”

For college students and faculty members to use PGPs in an academic setting, Windsor says, is “a great way to show support to an individual who stands against great institutional barriers.”