Last year, The Auckland University Medical Students’ Association (AUMSA) established a Rainbow Communities Representative on their executive. Josh McCormack (he/him), the faculty’s first Rainbow Communities Representative, has launched their first celebration project for LGBTQITakatāpui+ communities in the faculty, Pronouns 101.
The Pronouns 101 project, sponsored by the Medical Assurance Society (MAS), provides free name badges with pronouns for University of Auckland medical students to wear in hospitals. Each medical student also receives an information handout, screened and approved by Rainbow Youth, that offers tips to help ensure their medical practice is a safe zone for LGBTQITakatāpui+ patients.
These badges display third-person singular pronouns (e.g. he, she, they, ia), which tend to refer to and reflect the gender identity of the person being described. McCormack says ensuring the project is safe for trans, intersex, non-binary and takatāpui patients is a priority, which is why participation and pronoun disclosure is optional.
People who are trans, intersex or non-binary often need to make their pronouns known to ensure they are not misgendered. McCormack says pronoun sharing as a cisgender person helps normalise the practice of sharing pronouns, shares the workload of educating people about them, and signals allyship.
McCormack says Pronouns 101 aims to dismantle the cisnormativity and heterosexism in hospitals and help people feel comfortable in a hospital setting. He says queer and gender diverse youth report greater discomfort within the healthcare system. He says reasons for this include lack of access to gender-affirming healthcare and the anxiousness of not having educated or comforting doctors. McCormack says pronoun badges indicate allyship with our LGBTQITakatāpui+ communities, making it more comforting for patients who might be anxious about judgement or mistreatment.
The Rainbow Communities Rep believes there is serious work needed to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTQITakatāpui+. “Our queer communities are disproportionately represented in poorer health outcomes, worse mental health and suicide statistics.” A Youth19 (2021) survey led by University of Auckland associate professor Dr Terryann Clark and Victoria University of Wellington associate professor Dr Terry Fleming concluded that a more significant proportion of transgender and gender diverse students reported challenges in healthcare settings and with their mental health and wellbeing than their cisgender peers. “The findings indicate that social and school environments need to change, to address the active exclusion of and mistreatment of these young people.”
The project has been immensely successful, with one in four, approaching one in three medical students signed up, and 101 badges provided so far. However, McCormack says the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Equity Committee did not financially support the project, with all funding sourced from external independent sponsorship and grassroots funding from students. “The faculty is more interested now that it has been successful. But what is disappointing is that it almost wasn’t. It almost never happened because the faculty didn’t have any funding.” Pronouns 101 has a dedicated Give A Little page where you can give a $14 koha to donate a badge to someone else. 10% of the total proceeds also go directly to Rainbow youth.
Media representative, Paul Pankhurst says “The Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and University as a whole have been supportive of the Pronouns 101 project, as illustrated by a story on the project [last week] on the University website.”
The success of Pronouns 101, McCormack believes, shows there is a need and a demand for pronoun badges. He has been contacted by the New Zealand Post and nursing, pharmacy, and University of Otago students to discuss experiences setting up this project and if they could set up something similar. The Wanganui Chronicle also approached McCormack, who is from Wanganui, to cover the project. “It’s good to know that this project is reaching new audiences and starting conversations.”
McCormack says he is running this project alone and that managing his volunteer advocacy work with being a full-time medical student has been challenging. “It would be helpful if the faculty provided some permanent support structures, so it’s not all student-driven by students who have full-time courses and their medical degree.”
When McCormack started at the medical school, he says there were no LGBTQITakatāpui+ focused clubs or representatives. However, McCormack says he sees change beginning to happen, stating that Mr Daniel Heke, the student support advisor in the medical school, has been supportive in helping research and advocating for educational curriculum changes. “Rainbow representation is very new in our faculty. There aren’t any dedicated grants for projects like these because they are projects that have never been done before.”
In response to this, Pankhurst confirms there is currently no formal structure to support future projects. “But Josh is an elected member of the Auckland University Medical Student Association’s board and that association receives funding from the University.”
Above all, McCormack says the goal of Pronouns 101 has been to normalise, educate and encourage people to stand as an ally to their gender-diverse peers. He encourages people to spread awareness of the project’s kaupapa and incorporate pronoun sharing into their daily lives. “If you have a job, ask your employer if you can put pronouns on your existing name badges. Add pronouns to your email signature, social media bios, and introduction when you introduce yourself.”
Learn more about Pronouns 101 and donate here: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/pronouns101