Unconventional Panel: Is it hateful not to use gender-neutral pronouns?

A U of T professor is being accused of hate speech after refusing to call students ‘ze’ or ‘zu.’ As attitudes towards gender shift, does our language need to evolve? Our Unconventional Panel weighs in.

‘Calling someone a ‘she’ or ‘he’ is not hate speech,’ says panelist George Brookman

As Miss and Mrs. made room for Ms., can "they" make the spectrum between he and she more "thinkable"? (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

The debate over political correctness in the classroom is brewing across Alberta and Canada.

A University of Toronto professor is being accused of hate speech for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns — such as "ze" or "zu" on campus — saying they are not part of the English language.

And a recent internal document from the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATAsuggests teachers should refer to students as "comrades" rather than girls and boys to be more inclusive.

  • As attitudes towards gender shift, should our language too? Leave your comments below.  

That was the question debated by this week's Unconventional Panel — George Brookman, Anila Lee Yuen and Shelley Youngblut. The following is an edited version of their conversation on the Calgary Eyeopener.

This week's Unconventional Panel: Wordfest general director Shelley Youngblut, the CEO of West Canadian Industries George Brookman and Anila Lee Yuen, the CEO for the Centre For Newcomers. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

Is it hateful to refuse to use genderless pronouns?

George: "You can wake up every single day and decide if you want to be offended or not," said the CEO of West Canadian Industries.

"We're losing our minds in this country. Calling someone a 'she' or a 'he' is not a hate speech."

Anila: "It is if it is not how they identify."

George: "Gimme a break. This world has bigger issues than this to deal with."

Should teachers call their students 'comrades' to be more inclusive?

Shelley: "The whole thing around this is just learning and just opening up the conversation and giving us some parameters," said the general director of Wordfest.

"Just because someone identifies as neither boy nor girl, neither blue nor pink, doesn't in any way hurt people who do."

Anila: "Our language evolves. When we don't have a word, we borrow it from another language. Like entrepreneur or boondocks — we say people are from the boonies or I live in the boonies and that's from the Philippines ... so it's about evolving our language," said the CEO for the Centre for Newcomers

George: "No question. And our society is evolving and we are far more tolerant than my parents were — and that's the way we should be. But this idea that ... somebody's going to get sued or lose their job because they're referring to someone as he or she, it's insanity. We're losing our minds."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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