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New York university fires two staff for including pronouns in emails – reports

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A New York Christian university has terminated two employees for putting pronouns in their respective email signatures, these former workers allege, according to reports.

Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot, who were residence hall directors at Houghton University, said that administrators told them to take the words “she/her” and “he/him” off of their email signatures.

The university, Zelaya and Wilmot alleged, claimed their inclusion of pronouns violated a new school policy, the New York Times reported. Zelaya and Wilmot refused to remove their pronouns and were fired, several weeks before the semester’s conclusion.

Their firing comes as Houghton University has taken actions that are increasingly in line with religious conservatism at better known Christian colleges such as Liberty University in Virginia and Hillsdale College in Michigan, the Times wrote. 

These colleges often draw Republican-leaning students, some of whom ascribe to the party’s invocation of Christianity to enact anti-LGBTQ+ measures.

Houghton University shuttered a multicultural student center approximately two years ago. The school no longer recognizes a student LGBTQ+ group as the club refused to push more conservative discourse on gender and sex, the Times reported.

“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 reportedly said of his firing.

Neither Zelaya nor Wilmot identify as transgender. They said that their reasons for including pronouns in email signatures was due to their gender-neutral names – which has led to them being misgendered in written correspondence – as well as personal ethics.

“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 told the Times.

A spokesperson for Houghton University said 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,” the spokesperson also told the Times.

Some Houghton graduates have criticised the decision. About 600 signed an online letter this spring protesting Zelaya and Wilmot’s firings.

“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,” the letter stated.

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