Air Force Academy Didn’t Ban ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’

The reactionary press is once again misrepresenting diversity training.

YahooNews pointed me to a report originally at National Review titled “Air Force Academy Tells Cadets to Ditch Gendered Terms Like ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’.” The absurd headline did the trick and got me to click through to investigate.

Cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs have been instructed to adopt gender-inclusive language as part of their diversity and inclusion training at the esteemed military institution.

“Use words that include all genders,” the training material, obtained by Fox News, directs. It reminds readers to ask for a person’s preferred gender pronouns and names rather than referring to them by their observable sex.

While my kids think this sort of thing is perfectly normal, I must confess that I still find the notion that we should assume people might be trans or nonbinary absent outward signs rather silly. I would think most people would find being asked their preferred pronoun annoying, if not offensive.

Otherwise, the suggestions are rather commonsensical.

Recommended substitutes for “you guys,” if a student is addressing a group of people, are gender-neutral terms including “team,” “squaddies,” “folks” and “y’all.”

We were making this shift when I was a cadet, nearly forty years ago. While “guys” is gender-inclusive in some circles, it’s perfectly reasonable to use “team” or other ungendered language to refer to groups of mixed-gender people.

As to the silly headline:

“Some families are headed by single parents, grandparents, foster parents, two moms, two dads, etc.: consider ‘parent or caregiver’ instead of ‘mom and dad,'” the training says. Romantic relationships have to be stripped of gender connotations, too, with the presentation suggesting the word “partner” over “boyfriend or girlfriend.”

My presumption was that this is simply telling people not to make assumptions about other people. It’s surely perfectly fine to refer to one’s own parents as “mom” and “dad” or to refer to one’s own boyfriend or girlfriend. But it’s a good practice not to assume that others are in traditional situations until you know them.

In a statement released to the Denver Gazette, that’s exactly what was happening:

“The Air Force Academy does not prohibit the use of ‘Mom and Dad’ or other gender-specific terms,” according to the academy. “The slide in question was not intended to stand alone.”

The slide on “inclusive language” was meant to “demonstrate how respect for others should be used to build inclusive teams” and ultimately build better offensive and defensive units, said the Air Force Academy. “Until you know a person’s situation,” it counsels, “we should not make assumptions about them.”

Indeed, this is true even aside from LGBTQ issues. While it never seemed to bother them, I always cringed when strangers assumed my girls had a mom. While it’s a perfectly natural assumption to make, it’s rather awkward to have to explain that she’s deceased.

The training suggests that lumping people into a class based on various orientations is offensive and orders students to use “person-centered” language. Instead of “the disabled,” the speaker should say “people with disabilities” and “transgender people” instead of “transgenders.”

These, again, seem rather innocuous. Indeed, “transgenders” has long sense passed into being seen as a slur.

Treating races equally by vowing to be “color blind” is not acceptable or sufficient, according to the training, which says that “color conscious,” on the other hand, is the correct language to use instead. It encourages students to distinguish based on race, to “see Color/Patterns” AND VALUE people for their uniqueness.”

Pretending that we don’t notice people’s outward characteristics is silly, given that it’s a natural tendency.

The training claims that the programming will make the country’s military more competitive, as “our leaders have deemed D&I a warfighting imperative.” It is important to “lift others (motivate our teams)” as part of a strategy to develop “warfighters.” In order to foster a “warfighter mentality” among trainees, the commandant feels instructors should prioritize inclusivity, ownership, harmony, and institutional pride, according to the presentation.

The notion that diverse teams produce more creative problem-solving is pretty well established at this point. And, rather obviously, the team is going to be more effective if all its members feel valued.

I haven’t the slightest idea whether these sort of sessions have much impact on achieving that goal. Indeed, I’m rather skeptical. But DEI is a Secretary of Defense level initiative. It’s hardly shocking that the service academies are embracing it.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    So there’s a slide that reminds people not to make assumptions and some members of the Purity Police (Conservative Edition) decide to get offended by it? Just a reminder that this type of person can latch onto to any group or cause, and that their true motivation is to find fault and lecture everyone they come across.

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    I would think most people would find being asked their preferred pronoun annoying, if not offensive.

    What is it you find offensive about someone asking you how you want to be referred to?

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I watched Full Metal Jacket again the other day. All I can say is, we’ve come a long ways, baby.

  4. What I find remarkable about the reactionaries and their anger over all of this stuff is that most of the training and directives boil down to trying to be kind and respectful of our fellow humans.

    You know, love others as you would like to be loved, or something.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Being kind and respectful requires an acknowledgement of a right to exist that the reactionaries do not want to extend to LGBTQ+ people.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    I don’t find the pronoun question offensive. Silly would be my description.

    First off, whoever you are, I’ve already forgotten your name. Not an exaggeration. I recently spent a morning with two people supposedly redesigning my kitchen. Both introduced themselves and I forgot before they’d dropped the final syllable. (The result of a very itinerant life, I’d argue, not a lot of object permanence.) Let’s see if you make enough of an impression, or prove to be of sufficient importance, for me to recall your name. Then maybe I can manage to generate enough interest to remember your pronouns. (Nah.)

    It’s the self-importance of it that grinds my nerves. “I shall be addressed as. . .” You’re telling me how I must refer to you in a conversation where you aren’t even present? Fuck off. Whoever you are. Oh, you’ve been my neighbor for three years? OK, then first, shut your fuckin’ dog up, and then fuck off.

    As for what pronouns you use to refer to me? I DGAF. Why would I? I’m not there, you’re talking about me with someone else, what business is it of mine how you refer to me? Is ‘prick’ even a pronoun?

  7. Jon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s the self-importance of it that grinds my nerves.

    Let’s see if you make enough of an impression, or prove to be of sufficient importance, for me to recall your name

    Hmm. 🙂

  8. Mu says:

    This would be the same Air Force Academy that was under fire for excessive evangelical proselytizing not ten years ago?

  9. Michael Reynolds says:


    Let’s see if you make enough of an impression, or prove to be of sufficient importance, for me to recall your name

    If you don’t, I want you to know I don’t hold it against you. Or even care. Ego te absolvo.

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    It should be a federal offense for any non-sports college related news to exist outside the college campus. You get charged for writing about it AND for intentionally accessing the story. The sentence is proportional to the age gap between the defendant and the average college age person. So if you’re 24, you get a month or maybe probation or a dropped charge. If you’re 58, you get about 15 years, and if you have larger theories about colleges or woke kids, RICO applies and it’s life without parole.

  11. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m always astounded when people think that because they shook hands with a celebrity for two seconds at a meet-‘n’-greet that the celeb remembers them fondly forever.

    I once met Ken Burns and Carly Simon at a dinner party. Did they forget me a half-minute later? Of course they did.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    Romantic relationships have to be stripped of gender connotations, too, with the presentation suggesting the word “partner” over “boyfriend or girlfriend.”

    I lived with a woman for 16 years. As a point of reference the relationship began in 1978. We never did get married as neither one of us wanted to. We had what in those days was called a closed relationship. I always referred to her as my “main squeeze”.

    It is important to “lift others (motivate our teams)” as part of a strategy to develop “warfighters.”

    …”warfighter” beats the shit out of cannon fodder*

    *Russian Army?

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    OK, then first, shut your fuckin’ dog up, and then fuck off.

    Michael, it seems lately you could be a lot more efficient if you just scheduled an hour a day for yelling at the kids to get off your lawn.


  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    I am not from the South, but I lived there for 6 years, and I visit regularly. I adore “y’all”. I use it. I’m not giving it up. Prior to that I used “you guys” in mixed settings of some fairly forward-looking people with no pushback. But that was quite a while ago. But “y’all” flows better and doesn’t have the linguistic gender confusion.

    Enthusiastic adopter. 5 of 5 stars. Would use again.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    I can’t yell at kids, they’re the ones feeding my bank account. Fortunately here in parched SoCal lawns aren’t so much of a thing any more. Get off the top of my garage doesn’t have the same ring.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    I can’t unfortunately blame ‘celebrity’ in my case. First because I’m not one, and second because baby, I was born this way. I even forget the celebs I’ve met. Kids ask me if I’ve met anyone famous. Bryan Cranston and, um. . .Angelina Jolie (who hugged me). I think there have been others. They’ll come to me. Eventually. Hmmm. Does Mike DeLuca count?

  17. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I wouldn’t get offended. But I know you’re aware that at least *some* people would be if you asked for pronouns, implying that you can’t infer their gender. I don’t mean to push back, I’m just curious if you are trying to pin down Dr. Joyner to see if he would be offended?

    This whole thing … let me tell a quick story. My best friend died a few years back. He had two young children, and his widow is now dating a great supportive guy. That guy often hangs out at the kids’ sporting and performance events. Well, one of the kids is in wrestling, and he did really well at a tournament, and a coach told him that his dad over there must be so proud of him. The boy went quiet.

    The coach meant well, but it was a mistaken assumption, and it hurt somebody’s feelings. There are a million stories like this. (The mom let the coach know, who was of course apologetic, and she also took the moment to help guide her son how to handle future situations like that, in an age appropriate way.)

    Could he have asked, “is that your dad over there?” before making a comment, but I don’t see how that avoids the hurt feelings. The point of this, is that there’s not much way of avoiding something like this unless you provide every piece of information about yourself whenever you meet someone new. And then expect them to remember it all. Or the alternate, avoid making any assumptions at all which would grind everybody’s thought process to an absolute standstill. So my personal opinion, is that if your pronouns are important to you, then provide them or ask about them, and don’t get offended if somebody else provides or asks about them. But there are a million other things to know about people that they may feel are more important than pronouns.

  18. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    You’re a celeb to anyone who reads and loves kid lit.

  19. Robert in SF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    As a Southern native, just remember that y’all is singular, and all y’all is plural. 🙂

  20. Robert in SF says:
  21. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    As for what pronouns you use to refer to me? I DGAF.

    It also affects whether you are a sir, ma’am, comrade, Mr. Reynolds, Ms. Reynolds, Mx. Reynolds, my brother in Christ, sorry excuse for a man (as in “listen, you sorry excuse for a man, …”)…

    You get directly referred to in gendered terms all the time.

    (I have no idea what the they/them version of sir/ma’am is, but I figure comrade works well in those cases… never met a conservative gentlethem)

  22. Chip Daniels says:

    The reactionary project runs on the fuel of grievance, and where none exists, it must be created from scratch.

    We can chuckle over it, but this is the modern equivalent of lebensraum, or Radio Rwanda, where they are seeking out permission to lash out in rage and violence.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    pointed me to a report originally at National Review

    Alas, “National Review” was the tip off. [sigh]

  24. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Robert in SF: I hear all y’all a lot in Texas, but not so much in the Tidewater area of VA, where y’all appeared to be both singular and plural.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Yeah. I don’t know if they have any quality voices left at this point. So many have headed off (been run off?) to the Bulwark, the Dispatch, and other NeverTrump outlets. I was mostly just interested in what the argument was but it was pretty transparent once I saw it.

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: And to the point above: “Indeed, this is true even aside from LGBTQ issues.”

    Sure, but NR writers and editors will not be surrendering that point in the view of their readership. (I think it has something to do with telling people to do something “with their feelings.” It’s rhyming or alliterative or something. I can’t pull it from the fog of my memory right now.)

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jon: Yeah. And he got 5 upvotes on the comment so far. Tell you something about the audience?

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Thank you for that addition. I had stripped the context of Reynolds being a celebrity (because I don’t consider him one) and excluded that context from the money quote. I still suspect that the quote represents his general attitude rather than the sort of status you’re referring to, though.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Franklin: “Could he have asked, “is that your dad over there?” before making a comment…”

    True, but most of us aren’t that alert or sensitive to the universe beyond our fingertips. I think, “Wow, that guy seems to be a big fan, is he your dad?” would allow for “no, he’s just a friend,” but again, how many of us are that alert? (I know I’m not.)

  30. Maybe the Air Force can put out its own blockbuster aviation movie:

    Top Pronoun.”

    THAT movie will bring the Air Force the needed warriors that will win future wars!

  31. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    If you’re a traditionally published author (that means not self-published), you’re a celeb to anyone who buys your books, reads them, likes them, and shows up for signings.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: As I do none of those things in re MR, he’s not a celebrity. Then again, I was surprised to be introduced as “the famous **” at my 50th high school reunion, too. Celebrity status is a vapor. And in the eye of the beholder as well.

    (I would have counted the introductions as a joke except it happened several times involving several people. Weird.)

  33. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I know. I was once a semi-celeb myself.

  34. Gustopher says:


    I once met Ken Burns and Carly Simon at a dinner party. Did they forget me a half-minute later? Of course they did.

    Had you taken a shit on the table while singing bawdy sea shanties, I think they would have remembered you to this day.

    Just saying’

  35. Grommit Gunn says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: The thing is that you likely would be if you were regularly interacting with students or young athletes. An easy version would be: “Who is that over there rooting for you? They look really proud of how you did today.”

    On the first day of each new class, I tell students that I go by a nickname, rather than the name they see on the roster, and that I like to call people what they like to be called. So when I go down the list, I make sure to write down preferred names and pronunciations.

    I have a similar question built into my introductory discussion in online sections.

    No need to worry about pronouns, really. Just extend what we all normally do (calling William ‘Bill’ if that is their preference) out a little further.

  36. Grommit Gunn says:

    Also, I do find pronouns in email signatures to be super helpful. We’ve got students, faculty, and staff from around the world, and it saves me from having to make ignorant assumptions about the gender of folks from other cultures where I lack the experience to recognize the common gender associated with particular names.