Guide to Pronouns

Click here to access the Guide to Pronouns in PDF.


The B.C. Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity or expression. Discrimination happens when a person is treated badly or is denied a service or benefit because of their gender identity or expression. Misgendering someone by using an incorrect pronoun can be discrimination under the B.C. Human Rights Code.[1]

According to the BC Human Rights Tribunal:[2]

  • Sex includes being female, male, intersex, Two Spirit, or transgender.
  • Gender identity is a person’s sense of their gender, including man, woman, transgender or non-binary. For some people, gender identity is fixed. For others, it is fluid.
  • Gender expression is about how a person presents their gender. It includes how a person acts and appears. It can include dress, hair, make-up, body language, and voice. How a person presents their gender may not reflect their gender identity.
  • Gender identity or expression can also include a person’s name and pronoun, such as he, she or they.

Pronouns are a form of gender identity and/or expression. They are words that are used to refer to people without using their name, such as he, she, they, or ze. The gender neutral “they” is a pronoun often used by non-binary individuals, although there are other gender-neutral pronouns that may also be used. People may also wish to be referred to by their name instead of a pronoun. A recent decision from the BC Human Rights Tribunal confirmed that “pronouns are a fundamental part of a person’s identity.”[3] The Tribunal also stated the following with respect to pronouns:

Like a name, pronouns are a fundamental part of a person’s identity. They are a primary way that people identify each other. Using correct pronouns communicates that we see and respect a person for who they are. Especially for trans, non-binary, or other non-cisgender people, using the correct pronouns validates and affirms they are a person equally deserving of respect and dignity. [4]

Everyone has the right to define their gender identity and to express their gender. Recognition and respect for an individual’s gender identity and expression begins with using their names and pronouns correctly. Being identified by the correct pronoun (consistent with an individual’s gender identity and expression) is a right recognized in law and protected by the B.C. Human Rights Code.

People do not always use the pronoun that you may expect based on their name or appearance. It is important not to make assumptions about which pronouns people use. Misgendering someone by using incorrect pronouns can be considered discrimination on the basis of sex and/or gender identity and expression and is in violation of the B.C. Human Rights Code.[5]

By modelling the correct use of pronouns, you can help create an inclusive and respectful environment for everyone at SFU.

How to ask about pronouns

It may not always be appropriate to ask someone what their pronouns are. If you are comfortable, sharing your own name and pronouns can help signal that you are interested in that information and that someone can share their pronouns with you. For example, “my name is Marty and my pronouns are he/him/his.”

In a large group such as a classroom, individuals can be invited to share their name and pronouns. Students may be asked to send that information to their professor in advance of the first lecture. Using name tags and encouraging students to include their pronouns on the name tag can make it easier to remember and ensure you are getting everyone’s pronouns correct.

It is important to remember that some people may not want to share their pronouns and that pronouns may change over time or be dependent on a specific setting. If someone needs time to share their pronouns, be respectful of their decision. Do not put anyone on the spot to share their pronouns. The best practice is to share your pronoun (if you are comfortable doing so) and leaving it to individuals to share their pronouns if they wish to.

If the gender of someone is unknown, you can use the gender-neutral “they”. If you are not clear about how someone identifies, you can also use the gender-neutral “they”, their name or nouns like “the student” or “this person”.

What if I get it wrong?

Apologize, correct yourself and get it right the next time. Avoid apologizing profusely or dwelling on the issue as this tends to make it about you instead of the person you have misgendered.

If you hear someone using the wrong pronouns for someone else, you can politely correct them without drawing too much attention to the person who has been misgendered.


If have questions or concerns about being misgendered or the use of pronouns, the Human Rights Office provides confidential and impartial advice, support, referrals, and information to students, faculty, and staff on all issues related to human rights. Contact us or visit our Get Help page for additional resources.

Want to Learn More?

Here are some additional resources for quick learning about pronouns (and how to pronounce them):



[1] Nelson v. Goodberry Restaurant Group Ltd. Dba Buono Osteria and others, 2021 BCHRT 137.


[3] Nelson v. Goodberry Restaurant Group Ltd. Dba Buono Osteria and others, 2021 BCHRT 137 at para 82.

[4] Nelson, supra, para 82

[5] Ibid.