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He? She? They? York Region hospitals to ask for preferred pronouns

August 18, 2022

Posted: August 18th, 2022. By: Kim Zarzour,, Original Article. 

Southlake, Oak Valley and Stevenson Memorial say ‘words matter’ when it comes to helping LGBTQ2S+ community

Three York Region hospitals will be adding pronouns into their electronic health records in an effort to improve care for LGBTQ2S+ people.

Southlake Regional Health Care, Oak Valley Health (formerly Markham Stouffville Hospital) and Stevenson Memorial have announced starting Aug. 10, patients will be asked, “would you like to share your pronouns?” at patient registration.

Words are powerful. Pronouns matter,” the hospitals said in a joint statement released Aug. 11.

Tristan Coolman, president of Pflag York Region, calls it an “incredibly important” move, one that could provide assurance to marginalized groups they will be treated as with dignity, as individuals, rather than assumptions based on appearance.

“A lot of people in the queer community avoid engaging with the health-care system for fear of being treated poorly or based on past experiences,” he said.

All three hospital presidents called it a step in the right direction and a sign of respect.

“Understanding and recognizing gender identities is important to delivering inclusive, patient-centred health care,” the media release said. “Front-line staff, clinicians and administrators all play a crucial role in offering an inclusive, affirming experience for all people, including those with nonbinary gender identities.”

Preferred pronouns will be collected at the beginning of patients’ experience at the hospital and once patient consent is obtained, that pronoun will be entered into the shared platform, used by the care team through every encounter.

“We have already heard positive feedback from our staff and patients, about how meaningful this small action will be for our community,” said Oak Valley’s president and CEO Jo-anne Marr. “Asking a person’s pronouns serves as a statement about the value our organization places on individual identity, and supporting both our health-care workers and our patients in being their authentic selves.”

“Understanding and recognizing gender identities, and using correct pronouns is important in creating an environment where the best experiences happen for both staff and patients,” said Arden Krystal, president and CEO at Southlake.

Jody Levac, Stevenson Memorial’s president and CEO, said pronoun identification is a crucial element of good clinical care, an important sign of respect, and can increase communication and trust with patients.

Michael Braithwaite, CEO at Blue Door, praised the initiative. Blue Door launched INNclusion last year, the first supportive housing for LGBTQ2 youth in York Region.

Hospitals asking about pronouns can also help with accessibility, Braithwaite said. “Sometimes, people not being able to be themselves puts them in a situation of great anxiety,” he said. “It scares them away. If we want to create real accessibility, let’s allow people to identify as they see fit.”

Coolman said he has some concerns about how the hospitals will train staff to deal with incidents — when the wrong pronoun is used, for example, and how they’ll honour patients’ privacy and ensure a consistent experience — especially during a time of funding constraints and staff shortages in hospitals.

Southlake spokesperson Lindsey Furlanic said educational support is being provided including staff access to accredited diversity, equity and inclusion online training. Southlake has also recently worked with The 519 centre to host a facilitated learning session on gender identity, expression and barriers facing the LGBTQ2S+ community, she said.

Mackenzie Health, with hospitals in Richmond Hill and Vaughan, is also committed to an inclusive environment — including recognizing and understanding gender identities, said spokesperson Christina Cindric. “Our electronic medical record system is equipped to include the use of pronouns, and work is underway to develop a training plan for clinical staff and physicians as part of our implementation.”

Jen Gilbert, a professor with York University’s faculty of education, says pronouns can be powerful and can play a role in fostering a more gender-tolerant world.

“Maybe it’s just words, maybe it’s one small thing, but it’s acknowledgement that the world is a lot different from what we imagined it to be.”