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 Julian 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."
\u201cAs soon as she is introduced, @KamalaHarris immediately shares her pronouns. Then @ChrisCuomo promptly ruins the important moment. #EqualityTownHall\u201d
\u201cDear @ChrisCuomo, people\u2019s pronouns are not a punchline. In a year where LGBTQ Americans are finally being recognized on the national Presidential stage, making jokes about gender pronouns is beneath your dignity. Please do better in the future. #EqualityTownHall\u201d
— NCLR \u2013 National Center for Lesbian Rights (@NCLR \u2013 National Center for Lesbian Rights)
\u201cNow up: Kamala Harris. \n\nShe comes out and says, \u201cMy pronouns are \u2018She her hers.\u2019\u201d\n\nChris Cuomo actually responded with a \u201cjoke,\u201d saying: \u201cMine too.\u201d \n\nWTF.\u201d
— Chris \u201cSubscribe to Law Dork!\u201d Geidner (@Chris \u201cSubscribe to Law Dork!\u201d Geidner)
\u201cHello, @ChrisCuomo. My pronouns are they, them, and their. It\u2019s not a joke. It\u2019s what\u2019s correct when addressing me. You had one job tonight and what you did was mock so many trans and non-binary people, tuned in and not tuned in, whose rights and lives are at stake.\u201d
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]."
\u201cPLEASE READ: When Sen. Harris said her pronouns were she her and her's, I said mine too. I should not have. I apologize. I am an ally of the LGBTQ community, and I am sorry because I am committed to helping us achieve equality. Thank you for watching our townhall.\u201d
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@Christopher C. Cuomo)
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.