Unicode Brings Forward Gender Neutral Timeline

Unicode Brings Forward Gender Neutral Timeline

Originally planned for release in 2020, a number of new gender neutral emojis have been moved into a late-2019 update from the Unicode Consortium, following support from 'at least two' major vendors.

The creation of Emoji 12.1 means an additional 168 emojis are on the way, on top of the 230 emojis already approved earlier in 2019. While Emoji 12.1 is not out yet, the announcement that it has been accepted will be sufficient for any vendors wishing to support these new additions to do so.

What's New

In total, 23 new gender-neutral emojis have been added to the mix. These include a gender-neutral fire fighter, astronaut, person in wheelchair, judge, and more. With skin-tone support included, the tally equals 138 additions.

Proposed by Google's Jennifer Daniel and the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee in April 2019, this set means the majority of humans on the emoji keyboard will be able to display as gender-neutral by default, unless or a woman or man variation is chosen by the user.

Back in September, Google made the first step here in switching the display of any emoji which doesn't specify a gender to have a gender-inclusive design. This worked well for many emojis which have a 'base' (genderless) code point in additon to options for women or men. However due to the way many ZWJ Sequences are created within Unicode, many need additional sequences to provide a neutral option. This is what the Emoji 12.1 update aims to provide.

Separately, 30 new variations of people, women or men holding hands will form part of Emoji 12.1. Earlier this year, Emoji 12.0 added options for mixed skin tone support for any of the people holding hands. One part of this implementation determined that it was unnecessary, for example, to support both 👩🏿+ 👩🏻 as well as 👩🏻 + 👩🏿 when holding hands.

Apple, in its submission to Unicode, makes the case that the left and right person in each couple on iOS aren't identical:

“For user-interface consistency, Apple designers would like to allow the same skin-tone combinations for the differently drawn people in the same-gender couples that are available for the different-gender couple (that is, to support both Fitzgerald-3 on the left and Fitzgerald-5 on the right, as well as the reverse, for the same-gender couples).”

Above: Apple notes that the same-gender couples have different design features on left and right. Image: Apple.

The result of this change will mean that each of the hand-holding person-person, woman-woman, man-man, and woman-man will have 25 skin tone combinations. Emoji 12.0 listed 25 combinations for woman-man, but only 15 for the same-gender couples.

Vendor support

The Unicode Technical Committee (UTC) meeting has been taking place this week at Apple[1] and the list of recommendations from the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee notes that 'at least two major vendors' plan to include the emoji sequences that will form Emoji 12.1.

The specific vendors are not named in the document. Given that Emoji 13.0 is slated for completion by March 2020, it's reasonable to expect that some vendors would begin supporting Emoji 12.1 by the end of 2019.

  1. Disclaimer: Emojipedia is a voting member of the Unicode Consortium and I have been present, representing Emojipedia at these UTC meetings. ↩︎