It’s one of the smallest things you can do to be more inclusive of transgender and non-binary people, but adding pronouns in your email signature is what caused two members of staff at Houghton University in New York to be fired by the institution.
Shua Wilmot (who uses he/him pronouns) and Raegan Zelaya (who uses she/her pronouns) were former dormitory directors at the Christian university, before they were sacked by their employer last month for refusing to adhere to its email policy introduced back in September last year.
In particular, Ms Zelaya received a termination letter explaining her sacking was “as a result of your refusal to remove pronouns in your email signature” and because she criticised the move in the student newspaper.
This is despite a university spokesperson telling The New York Times that the school “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,” they said.
Mr Wilmot, meanwhile, said he was accused of making a “threat” towards the general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church with which the university is affiliated.
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He went on to add he wrote a “constructive letter” to Mr Schmidt criticising the church’s outdated views on gender identity and expression.
A blog post published by the Wesleyan Church in 2014 on the subject reads: “Gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition. This state of depravity affects all persons individually and collectively.
“We regard adult gender nonconformity as a violation of the sanctity of human life, except in those profoundly rare cases of persons who are physiologically, genetically or hormonally proven to be the victims of a mistaken gender assignment in childhood over which they had no control and gave no informed consent.”
In a YouTube video released in April, Mr Wilmot explained ‘Shua’ is “an unusual name” and one which ends in ‘a’ – something which is “traditionally feminine in many languages”.
“If you get an email from me and you don’t know who I am, you might not know how to gender me,” he said.
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Ms Zelaya added it was “pretty standard industry practice” and a “professional courtesy I can offer” to “show care and dignity for others”.
And others have supported their stance, too, with people commenting on a Facebook post to brand the university’s decision “absolutely absurd”.
One commented: “This is an outrage, and merely shows HU to be pandering to the lowest common denominator of the religious right. I’m sickened by this.”
“What a farce,” said another.
A third replied: “Thank you for being a voice for those that need it.”
Not just that, but an open letter has now been signed by more than 700 alumni members of the university condemning the decision.
“Our overall concern is that these recent changes demonstrate a concerning pattern of failure on the part of the current administration to respect that faithful and active Christians reasonably hold a range of theological and ethical views, and in turn, failure to allow for genuine dialogue about these differing views. In this way, Houghton is not living up to its own ideals,” it reads.
In a response to the letter earlier this month, the university’s president Wayne D Lewis Jr said: “We … require as a condition of employment that all employees be respectful of the positions, doctrine, and beliefs of the university.
“At the time of their appointment and again annually, every Houghton employee affirms his or her understanding of and agreement to these commitments.”
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