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19th May 2023

University fires two employees for including their pronouns in emails

Steve Hopkins

‘They want to be trans-exclusive and they want to communicate that to potential students and the parents of potential students’

Two staff members at a university have been fired after including their pronouns in their emails.

Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot, according to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, refused to remove the gender expression from their emails which violated a Houghton University policy.

The pair, who oversaw the women’s and men’s residence halls, were informed late last month by the university in update New York that their positions were being terminated immediately. Both were working one-year contracts, however, Zelaya had already said she would return next year. Wilmot, who had been planning to return, was initially told last month that his contract wouldn’t be renewed.

The New York Times (NYT) reported that both Zelaya and Wilmot thought including their pronouns – “he/him” and “she/her” – was a good thing, as they deemed it an emerging professional standard and an indication of inclusivity.

Houghton, which is affiliated with a conservative branch of the Methodist Church, asked them to remove them, and when they didn’t, both were let go.

The Times reported that nearly 600 people had signed a petition in protest against the move.

Houghton, since 2021, has closed a multicultural student centre and an environmental sustainability program and rescinded its recognition of an on-campus L.G.B.T.Q. club after the club declined to promote conservative views on sex and gender, the Times noted.

“I think it boils down to: They want to be trans-exclusive and they want to communicate that to potential students and the parents of potential students,” Wilmot said of his firing, to the newspaper.

Zelaya and Wilmot, neither of whom is transgender, said they had professional and pastoral reasons for including their pronouns, but also a practical one: They both have uncommon, gender-neutral names, and said they have often been misgendered in email correspondence.

“There’s the professional piece to it, and the practical piece, and there’s also an inclusive piece, and I think that’s the piece this institution doesn’t want,” Wilmot added to the outlet.

Michael Blankenship, a university spokesman, said in a statement to the publisher that Houghton “has never terminated an employment relationship based solely on the use of pronouns in staff email signatures.”

“Over the past years, we’ve required anything extraneous be removed from email signatures, including Scripture quotes,” he said.

Pictures of Zelaya’s termination letter, which has circulated widely on social media, says she was fired “as a result of your refusal to remove pronouns in your email signature’ as well as for criticising an administration decision to the student newspaper.

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