Membership

Membership Memo: Letter Perfect

By / Oct 15, 2018 (clicknique/Getty images)
The change was small, but the impact was pretty big for our members.

Small changes, like the American Alliance of Museums’ addition of a gender-neutral prefix, make inclusion real for members.

The prefix you put before your name is just a few little letters, but when the American Alliance of Museums added a new one—the gender-neutral Mx.—to its member profile page this year, the response went viral.

“Just renewed my AAM membership and was pleasantly surprised to find the Mx. option,” AAM member Margaret Middleton wrote on Twitter. “Thanks for updating the list of honorifics @AAMers!”

“Yes!!! This is awesome! Time to go change mine!” member Alison Kennedy replied.

Member Service Manager Lauren Griffin said the change was the result of a routine review of the profile page. “I was looking over our list and noticed there was no gender-neutral option,” she says. “The change was small, but the impact was pretty big for our members.”

The update—which took only about 20 minutes to implement, Griffin says—is just the latest example of AAM’s emphasis on practical applications of its commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion that have real-life impact for members. Griffin serves as part of an internal, staff-led team that evaluates how policies, practices, and procedures can be changed to promote inclusion.

Previously, the AAM profile page included almost two dozen titles, such as traditional gender-specific options like Ms., Mr., Mrs., and Miss, as well as military, professional, and religiously affiliated designations.

“By using gender-neutral pronouns, we make sure people who do not wish to disclose their gender or who are nonbinary, agender, or gender-neutral are also respected,” Griffin says.

The honorific change coincided with a new code of conduct for AAM events, released earlier this year. That effort, also spearheaded by the inclusion team, defines what qualifies as meeting harassment or discrimination.

“We are setting hard-and-fast rules for what is and is not appropriate at our meetings,” Griffin says. “Now, there are certain standards of respect, and it has helped to establish a mutual sense of accountability.”

Among other forms, AAM defines harassment as intentional outing (revealing sensitive information about a person without their consent), deadnaming (using a person’s pre-transition name), or misgendering (intentionally using incorrect pronouns and honorifics).

“We don’t mean accidentally mixing up a person’s pronouns in conversation,” Griffin says. “We all slip up or misspeak. But when you continuously refer to somebody with the wrong pronouns or name—that’s an act of violence.”

AAM encourages staff and members to ask people about their pronoun preferences. Training is important, Griffin says, especially for membership staff who frequently answer emails and calls or talk face to face with members. At AAM conferences, attendees can choose to wear ribbons that show their preferred pronouns, including he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, or fill-in-the-blank options.

Asking about pronouns should become “a normal part of the conversation,” Griffin says.

Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. More »

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