How An Adobe Employee Made Every Device In The World More Queer (With Just Emojis)

One Adobe employee, with an expertise in fonts, is behind the victory of making perhaps the most universal language in the world–emojis–more gender-inclusive.

Paul D. Hunt is the designer and creator behind the latest gender-inclusive emojis, that are now on nearly every device all over the world.

They are part of the newest set of emojis ‘Unicode 13’ a set of standards released earlier this year by the Unicode Consortium, an organization that sets rules for tech companies using special characters like emoji. 

Hunt is a typeface designer and font developer at Adobe. Still, motivated by personal reasons to make all emoji, more gender-inclusive, they submitted plans to the Unicode Consortium.

“I decided to champion the case for gender-inclusive emoji because, as a queer person, I wanted to provide greater visibility for my fellow gender-nonconforming and non-binary people,” Hunt tells me. “I wanted them to have better options for representing their identity and appearance within the emoji system.”

And the the gender-neutral emoji set, is being rolled out alongside another major gender emoji victory. After multiple representations to the Unicode Consortium over several years, the Transgender flag was also introduced this year.

“As people begin to see a little pink, white and blue flag in friends’ and families’ texts and social media bios, I hope that more and more people will begin to know and acknowledge that some of their loved ones are also transgender”

The global non-profit body has great power and decides international standards for the use of characters. That also means, once a year, they decide what new emojis should become universally published and available on all devices. In one grand swoop, they greenlighted not only Hunt’s pitch but sent a trans ray of hope to devices everywhere.

“My hope is that as people see their friends and family using gender-inclusive emoji to represent themselves, it would create goodwill for those of us who do not identify as exclusively masculine nor starkly feminine.”

But at the same time, they perhaps delivered something which will have a longer-term impact by providing more inclusive, gender-neutral emoji as an international standard. It’s the kind of action that sits as part of much-needed change in dialogue, about how we all see trans and gender non-conforming people.

“Gender inclusive emoji are an attempt to strip as many gender cues away as possible to reveal that at the heart of it all we are all human,” Hunt tells me.

“Since the more androgynous emoji have been rolled out, I regularly use these representations when referring to myself. So in a way, I requested these emoji to be made for me so that I could see myself represented within the emoji symbol system.”

How new gender-inclusive emoji could help change attitudes about gender nonconformity

Far too many of us only view transgender and gender non-conforming people through the gaze of post-transition.

Some of us think we know, for example, that all trans women have a slightly masculine look. But that’s not true.

Indeed, further to this many people confuse sex and gender or use the two interchangeably. But there is a clear difference. Gender identity is a living, growing experience that can change over time. Whereas sex is the classification of a person as male, female, or intersex.

As such, the expression of gender is both individual and fluid. And that was at the heart of Hunt’s representation to the Unicode Consortium:

“The original Unicode guidance was to make all emoji that are not explicitly gendered as ‘gender-neutral’. However, when making emoji representations for people, designers did not have good guidance of what this might actually look like.

“To me, ‘gender-neutral’ implies a certain level of abstraction; from my point of view, only the yellow smilies are truly gender-neutral. In advocating for ‘gender-inclusive’ representation, my intention was to try to provide options for a humanised appearance. One that could potentially be acceptable to represent any human being without including visual cues that are typically associated with only on gender.

“I think after using this language enough in my documentation and in my conversations with people at Unicode; we built an understanding of what was intended to be an open-ended gender option for anyone who would like to choose it.”

And this isn’t Hunts only queer victory, they are also behind the introduction of the orange heart emoji. It’s introduction meant all six colours of the gilbert baker rainbow flag, an internationally recognised symbol of LGBTQ people, was possible to display in hearts. Popular on LGBTQ users’ Twitter and Instagram captions. 

“To me ‘inclusivity’ requires a dedication to the importance of respecting diversity within and between various cultures. The best way, in my opinion, to be inclusive of others is to be mindful of the needs of others, to realise that we need more options than just pink for girls and blue for boys.

“At very least, we should have more unisex and gender-neutral options in all areas of experience – from fashion, emoji to life opportunities. Committing to diversity means being able to see the differences that exist in the world, but also being able to see beyond them. Seeing how we are all human and share more similarities than we have differences.”

“For all those who are about to fly your own trans emoji flag, I hope you know that you are seen. I hope you feel that you are supported. I hope you find those who will love you for being courageous enough to live your truth.”

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