A train company could ban conductors from greeting passengers with the words ‘ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls’ after a complaint by a ‘non-binary’ passenger.
London North Eastern Railway said it would ‘review if any further changes need to be made’ – and tweeted that it would encourage staff to speak ‘with no gender mentioned’ to avoid offending passengers identifying as neither male nor female.
It comes after the passenger, South Western Railway train guard Laurence Coles, complained about a conductor who greeted travellers with ‘ladies and gentlemen’.
LNER promised to take action after replying to the tweet by Laurence, who is also a rail union representative, that they had felt excluded by the announcement.
But the response by the Government-owned operator prompted a backlash, with the firm accused of being ‘ridiculous’ and pandering to ‘woke nonsense’.
South Western Railway train guard Laurence Coles complained to London North Eastern Railway about a conductor who greeted travellers with ‘ladies and gentlemen’
LNER promised to take action after replying to the tweet by Laurence (pictured)
Laurence stated in their post: ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…’ so as a non-binary person this announcement doesn’t actually apply to me so I won’t listen @LNER.’
In reply, the rail operator said: ‘I’m really sorry to see this, Laurence, our Train Managers should not be using language like this, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.
The increasing use of non-binary pronouns
A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.
In the English language, the word ‘he’ is used to refer to males and ‘she’ to refer to females.
But some people identify as neither gender, or both, which is why it is becoming increasingly common for companies to make it easier for people to choose to be referred to by other pronouns.
Instagram, for example, now lets users enter their preferred pronouns on their profile.
It is also a common feature of users’ Twitter and Facebook biographies.
People who are limited by languages which do not include gender neutral pronouns have attempted to create them, in the interest of greater equality.
These include the terms zie and zim instead of he/she and him/her.
Source: The LGBT Resource Centre.
‘Please could you let me know which service you are on and I will ensure they remain as inclusive as we strive to be at LNER.’
LNER, which said the train manager would not face disciplinary action, confirmed it would ‘review’ the use of the phrase and was ‘committed to diversity and inclusion in all we do’.
However a source also said its guidance had not changed, with staff ‘encouraged to welcome all customers onboard’.
In response to a further tweet from someone saying they were ‘looking forward to your announcements including all 100+ genders’, LNER said: ‘Or just with no gender mentioned. Inclusive.’
LNER also said: ‘We’re not bending over backward to accommodate any one person, we’re doing our best to accommodate every person.’
Non-binary people do not identify as male or female and use pronouns such as they and them rather than he or she.
In their Twitter profile, Laurence claims they are a gay and transsexual rights officer for a local London branch of the Labour Party and the rail workers’ union the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers).
They also state in their profile: ‘They them pronouns b/c non binary, ta luv.’
Their LinkedIn profile says they have worked as a train guard for South Western Railway since September 2016, and previously worked in food development for McDonald’s head office in London.
The apology by LNER, which operates services on the East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross and the North East and Scotland, sparked a wave of criticism.
Mark Jenkinson, Conservative MP for Workington in Cumbria, said: ‘You’d be forgiven for thinking this train manager had unleashed a tirade of abuse.
LNER has come under fire after it apologised over a complaint from a non-binary passenger
‘He’d actually said, ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls’. Identify however you like, but can we stop this nonsense?’
Broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer of talkRADIO said: ‘Stop pandering to this nonsense. Your announcer said nothing wrong. Laurence’s complaint is ridiculous.
‘No one was excluded or discriminated against. Just do your job of running trains on time and leave the woke politics to someone else with nothing better to do.’
Columnist Paul Embery, who is also a trade unionist, added: ‘Utterly ridiculous. Do you have any idea how this kind of thing comes across to ordinary people?’
Colleague Jarley was with Laurence during the announcement and defended the complaint
Others questioned what alternative terms should be used if train managers wanted to welcome their passengers ‘inclusively’.
One Twitter user said: ‘I am concerned that you say train managers should not be using language ‘like this’. Can you clarify please?
‘Why are you asking the service this person was on? Do you intend telling the train manager that they are not to use normal language that everybody understands?’
Another added: ‘Well done LNER for sticking up for the Equality Act 2010, can I just ask what conductors are supposed to say though?’
An LNER spokesman said: ‘We are committed to diversity and inclusion in all that we do for our customers, colleagues and communities, and encourage our on-board teams to welcome all customers.
‘Our policies and procedures are reviewed regularly and we will review if any further changes need to be made.’
The RMT union was contacted for comment.
It echoes the row which erupted last year after Harry Potter author JK Rowling was accused of being ‘transphobic’ after insisting only women experience menstruation.
She had challenged an article entitled: ‘Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.’
And in 2017, the phrase ‘ladies and gentlemen’ was removed from announcements on the London Underground, with staff instead told to use greetings such as ‘good morning everyone’.