Editor’s Note: The American Kennel Club has had a long history of inclusion across our sport for exhibitors and spectators from all walks of life. This month, it is with honor that we support the LGBTQ community by adding the rainbow to our logo in honor of Pride month and the humanity it stands for. Additionally, we are sharing stories and voices of LGBTQ community members. Here, Sassafras Lowrey shares tips on how to be more inclusive as dog owners and handlers. You can read more about Sassafras’ full story.
Thinking about how welcoming our dog shows are to LGBTQ people should matter to all of us whether we are trial secretaries, judges, stewarding, competitors, or spectators. Regardless of what sport you participate in, being culturally sensitive to the LGBTQ community is just one more way that we can bring more people into the world of dogs, and I would argue that thinking about LGBTQ people and being culturally competent is part of good sportsmanship.
In the dog world, we are already keeping track of a lot of insider language and acronyms so it’s understandable that it can feel overwhelming to think of learning terms and identities. But using respectful language is an important part of making the sport welcoming to the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ 101 Defining Terms:
LGBTQ – An acronym that refers to gender and sexual minorities, but what does it stand for?
Lesbian – Women who are attracted to/in relationship with other women.
Gay – Sometimes used as an umbrella term for the whole LGBTQ community but generally used to refer to a man who is attracted to/in relationship with other men
Bisexual – Someone who is attracted to or could be in a relationship with someone of any gender
Transgender – Someone whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not physically transition with hormones and/or surgery.
Queer – In this case, instead of Q for qualifying, Q stands for queer, which is term reclaimed by many people in the LGBTQ community. Sometimes used as an umbrella term to represent all people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender.
Non-binary – People who identify as outside of a gender binary of male and female.
Cisgender – A term to describe people who were assigned a gender at birth and continue to identify as that gender through their life. This covers the vast majority of heterosexual men and women (basically, if you don’t identify as transgender or non-binary you are probably cisgender.)
Ways to be more inclusive to LGBTQ People in Classes and Shows
Here are a few simple ways that you can cue to LGBTQ people that you are an ally and that your trial, event, seminar, or training class is a safe and welcoming space.
This isn’t just an LGBTQ thing, but there is a high prevalence of people within the LGBTQ community who may not go by the name listed on their government (or AKC) documents. If someone tells you their name, use it when talking to and about them, even if it’s different than the name on their dog’s registration. Names are very personal things and the simple act of responding to a fellow competitor’s name can go a long way toward making dog events more inclusive.
If you teach a class, consider including a “Preferred Name” or “Name you go by” section on your registration form — a call name for the owners/handlers if you will!
Pronouns are gendered words that replace nouns. For example: she/her, he/him, they/them (and more). If you aren’t sure what pronoun someone uses, it’s always ok to ask! In fact, there is a large cultural movement to normalize asking about everyone’s pronouns when making introductions to a group or introducing yourself to someone new.
A great way to show yourself is an ally to LGBTQ people (especially if you are asking someone’s pronouns) is to introduce yourself by name and also include your pronouns. Feel free to throw in your breed and dog sport affiliation as well — after all, as dog people that is equally as important information. No matter what, use the pronouns someone asks you to use. If you make a mistake, apologize, correct yourself, and try to do better next time.
Safety in bathrooms is a key challenge for transgender and gender nonbinary people. It is widely accepted (including by the nation’s leading sexual assault and domestic violence prevention organizations) that despite discriminatory legislation in some areas of the country, transgender people pose no safety risk to anyone in public bathrooms. In fact, transgender people are significantly more likely to be victims of violence or discrimination within public bathrooms.
What does this mean for you at a dog show? Most dog shows (unless it’s an outdoor show with port-a-potties) are going to have gender segregated (“men’s” and “women’s” bathrooms). Always assume that people are capable of knowing what bathroom to use, and assume people are in the “right” bathroom. Never confront anyone for being in a “wrong” bathroom just because they don’t look the way you think a man or a woman should look.
Simple shifts in language don’t take much effort on our hand but can make a tremendous difference for transgender or gender nonbinary competitors. For example, if someone asks you where the check-in for obedience is instead of saying: “Over there next to the woman over there with the Newfoundland” you can say: “Next to the person wearing green with the Newfoundland.”
Similarly, don’t assume anything about someone’s significant others. Don’t assume that the guy you’ve been talking to all morning outside the ring is married to a woman just because he mentioned being married. Slight language shifts to be gender neutral — such as asking about someone’s “spouse” or “partner” instead of “wife” or “husband” (until you know the terms and identities someone uses) — make a big difference for LGBTQ competitors. These language shifts remove the pressure on LGBTQ people to have to come out again, and again, and again to fellow competitors. And this means we can all get back to talking about dogs!
Why Does it Matter?
I know some dog people feel uncomfortable talking about LGBTQ people and wonder why we can’t just stick to talking about dogs. At the end of the day, dogs live with, are bred by, groomed by, and trained by people (including people who might be LGBTQ.)
When we use inclusive language and when people feel comfortable, welcome, and safe at our events, they are significantly more likely to continue to participate. That can only make our sports better.
Making our trials more inclusive to LGBTQ people is ultimately good for the sport not only in terms of making the world of dogs more welcoming to the LGBTQ people who are already involved, but also bringing in new people who may be inspired to get their next puppy from a responsible breeder, or begin training and maybe even competing in sports with their dogs. At the end of the day, very simple shifts in language that take very little effort can make a world of difference for LGBTQ people feeling welcome at our trials, seminars, and classes.
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author and Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Sassafras’ books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation. New dog books from Sassafras in 2019 include: Healing/Heeling, Bedtime Stories for Rescue Dogs: William To The Rescue (with Lili Chin), and TRICKS IN THE CITY: For Daring Dogs and the Humans That Love Them (forthcoming in August from Mango Press). Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com.
Last month, she released “Healing/Heeling” a hybrid collection of lyric essays chronicling her life in dogs from belonging through loss, and ultimately her return to the world of dog sports as an out-LGBTQ person.