1.2 Respectful Communication

How

Avoiding assumptions

  • Do not make assumptions about a person’s gender, sexual orientation, sex characteristics, pronoun/s, cultural background, physical or cognitive abilities, preferred terminology, or preferred name, based on voice, appearance, age, marital status, or formal documentation.

  • Be mindful that respectful language can differ between age groups, as terminology changes. Avoid making age-based assumptions, and reflect language that the individual uses.

  • Use gender-neutral greetings and pronouns until you have checked in about individual preferences. This is especially important for workers who are a first point of contact, including on the phone.

  • Offer to share your pronoun/s.

  • Avoid assumptions about the gender or number of intimate partners, family makeup, or relationship with family of origin (parents, children, others), and use gender-neutral language for parents, partners, and siblings, and other caregivers.

  • When a person asks for the toilet, do not assume which toilet they may want to use. Inform them where all the toilets are located, including fully accessible for people with disabilities, and let them choose.

Example script for asking about gender and pronouns.

“I would like to ask some questions about your gender so I can be sure that you receive the most appropriate services here, and are treated in a culturally appropriate way with dignity and respect. Would you mind letting me know your gender identity? And what pronouns (if any) do you use for yourself? For example, I identify as female, and my pronoun is she/her. How would you like to be referred to with other people and services, and in correspondence such as mail? Thank you for telling me”.

Person-centred

  • Ask questions that are person-centred: nuanced enough to focus on individual needs and safety during intake, assessment, and care planning (not a one-size-fits-all approach), without being voyeuristic, pathologising, jeopardising their wellbeing, and policing their presentation.

  • Understand that gender, sexual orientation, and the language a person uses to describe themselves can also change over time (National LGBTI Health Alliance 2013).

  • If using an interpreter, check in with the client to make sure they feel comfortable and safe. Some people may prefer a phone-based interpreter who is interstate, which can minimise the risk of being outed to others in their community.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the language that someone is using to describe their identities and/ or experiences then acknowledge this. Inform them that you are going to be taking some notes, and that you will do further research and secondary consultation to ensure you are more familiar with language and concepts in future sessions.

  • • Understand that people from different cultural communities may not use Western terminology for describing sexual orientation, gender, and intersex, so be able to explain these, and provide other culturally appropriate options.

  • Ask questions in a space that does not risk outing LGBTIQ+ people to other service users or staff.

Example of giving directions to the toilets.

“We have gender-specific toilets on the left, and an all genders toilet on the right that is also wheelchair accessible”.

“The toilets are located at the back of the building. All of our toilets are gender-inclusive”.

Example conversation in navigating safety and accommodation with a gender diverse person.

“You let me know that you are gender diverse. You might be aware that all of our crisis accommodation options in the area are binary gender specific. Can we talk about which option would work best for you (for instance, a male only or female only facility), and if there is anything else you might need to feel supported?”

Note that this should be discussed in a confidential setting and consider a thorough risk assessment.

Why

There are multiple ways in which homelessness and housing sectors reinforce white, Western, cisnormative, heteronormative, ableist assumptions and privilege, creating additional barriers and impacts for LGBTIQ+ people – especially from different cultural backgrounds and experiences – when accessing services.

This can be reflected in:

  • Language (for example, misgendering, using inappropriate greetings based on a person’s voice or appearance, and using Western terminology);

  • Stereotypes (concerning race, and sexual orientation based on marital status, for example);

  • Intake and assessment questions, forms, and procedures;

  • Invisibility in data collection systems and policies;

  • Inappropriate and unsafe sleeping arrangements or housing options;

  • Unsafe and inaccessible buildings and facilities, and

  • Discrimination and rejection from gender-based services.

LGBTIQ+ people not only have to navigate these barriers and stigma when accessing services and support, they often have the additional burden of being expected to educate their service provider. This can further erode a sense of trust and confidence in the staff and organisation’s professional capacity, with impacts on disclosure, future help-seeking, and individual safety and wellbeing (McNair et al. 2017; National LGBTI Health Alliance 2013). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people, including Sistergirls and Brotherboys, are at particular risk of being stereotyped by mainstream service providers, and avoiding them as a consequence.