Even when given the information, it seems that people can still get it wrong.
On Friday, in its coverage of Sam Smith’s pronoun announcement, the Associated Press misgendered the singer. While its article stipulated that Smith would be using they/them pronouns, in the story the news agency repeatedly used he/him throughout. The article drew backlash on Twitter.
AP wasn’t the only publication to do this. In its initial report, The Sun, which broke the news about Smith’s pronouns prior to their announcement, also referred to the performer by he/him pronouns. While The Sun’s article has remained unchanged, the AP has updated its text, removing the majority of pronouns from the story and only using they/them in the last paragraph. But as the AP’s articles are routinely syndicated and used for various publications all over the world, some of which still have the original, incorrect text.
Gender-neutral and otherwise inclusive language is incredibly important for the identities of nonbinary individuals and plays a larger part in how to be respectful and supportive of them. Practicing gender neutral language helps include people who do not identify with gendered terms. While some argue that they/them usage has historically been plural, those pronouns have been routinely used as a singularly option in the case of someone whose gender is unknown.
In 2017, the AP officially announced changes to its style guide specifically around “stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her.” In that update, the guide advises journalists to either avoid pronoun usage and if it is essential to explain “that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.” This would mean, essentially, that the original article on Smith didn’t even follow the agency’s own rules.
Smith came out as nonbinary and genderqueer last June in an interview with Jameela Jamil on her Instagram Live show I Weigh Interviews. The singer told the Sunday Times in 2017 that they "felt much woman" as they did "man."