Gender pronouns aren’t a laughing matter for members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for people who are trans and nonbinary. It seems as though California Senator Kamala Harris got the memo, as she introduced herself during Thursday’s CNN’s LGBTQ+ Town Hall by listing off her pronouns: “She, her, and hers.”
But somehow moderator Chris Cuomo thought it was time to practice his humor.
“She, her, and hers?” the CNN anchor repeated, as Harris drew applause for a brief, yet meaningful show of solidarity with members of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s also a gesture that’s become increasingly common during the presidential primary, with fellow Democratic contenders like Julián Castro, Elizabeth Warren, and Bill de Blasio adding preferred pronouns to their Twitter bios.
But instead of celebrating Harris for being inclusive, Cuomo went for the punchline. “Mine, too,” Cuomo said.
While the Senator didn’t outright rebuke his insensitive remark, she seemed none too thrilled by the exchange. “All right,” she responded plainly, before Cuomo moved on to the first question from the audience.
On Twitter, viewers of the LGBTQ+ forum — the largest of its kind in history — noted the tone deafness of Cuomo’s comment on a historic evening. Critics said the remarks smacked of “transphobic bigotry” and claimed that the unnecessary jab “[ruined] an important moment.”
“[P]eople’s pronouns are not a punchline,” the LGBTQ+ advocacy group National Center for Lesbian Rights wrote on Twitter, adding: “Please do better in the future.”
Cultivating an inclusive environment, especially on an evening devoted to LGBTQ+ issues, matters more than many people might think.
For example, according to recently released data from the Healthy Minds Study, 80 percent of gender nonconforming and trans students on college campuses report having at least one mental health issue, compared to 45 percent of their cisgender peers. A 2016 survey found that being denied housing and gender appropriate bathrooms may lead to suicidal ideation and attempts.
Properly recognizing an individual’s pronouns signals that you see them as a whole person deserving of dignity and respect, as well as equal rights.
That’s likely why Harris didn’t respond to Cuomo’s joke and instead opted to redirect to continue the conversation on issues that matter to LGBTQ+ people. It only takes a few seconds to show support that could make a world of difference for people who often don’t get it.
Cuomo apologized for the gaffe on Twitter, saying that he “should not have” made light of anyone’s pronoun use.
“I am an ally of the [LGBTQ+] community, and I am sorry because I am committed to helping us achieve equality,” he said shortly after the event ended. “Thank you for watching our townhall [sic].”
Earlier in the day, Harris released a platform outlining her agenda on LGBTQ+ rights, which includes appointing LGBTQ+ people to her cabinet, increasing investigation of hate crimes, counting LGBTQ+ people in the decennial Census, and combating the epidemic of violence against trans women of color.