(Headline USA) As the woke U.S. State Deparment tries to ride out a misgendering fiasco following a new policy that automatically added pronouns to employees’ emails (in some cases, the wrong ones), a small, private, Christian school in New York is fighting for its right to ban the divisive, virtue-signaling practice altogether.
Now, two staff members who refused to comply are facing the consequences, while denying that they maintained any political motives in their act of civil disobedience.
Shua Wilmot and Raegan Zelaya, two former dorm directors at Houghton University, in western New York, acknowledge their names are unconventional, which explains why they attached gender identities to their work email signatures.
Wilmot uses “he/him.” Zelaya goes by “she/her.” Both correspond to the indivuduals’ respective biological genders.
However, their former employer wanted them to drop the identifiers in line with a new policy for email formats implemented in September. Both refused and were fired.
“My name is Shua. It’s an unusual name. And it ends with a vowel, ‘a,’ that is traditionally feminine in many languages,” Wilmot said in a nearly one-hour video he and Zelaya posted on YouTube shortly after they were let go last month. “If you get an email from me and you don’t know who I am, you might not know how to gender me.”
Ongoing culture wars in the U.S. over sexual preferences, gender IDs and transgender rights have engulfed politics, school campuses and many other facets of public and private life. At least 17 Republican-led states have banned or restricted life-altering transgender surgeries and treatments, particularly in young children and teens.
Debates continue to rage in some communities about school curricula mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity. And pickets have sprung up outside public libraries hosting “drag story hours.”
Meanwhile, controversies swirl at campuses with religious affiliations. The recent firings prompted more than 700 Houghton alumni to sign a petition in protest.
In the Northwest, 16 plaintiffs are suing Seattle Pacific University, a Christian liberal arts college, to challenge the school’s employment policy barring people in same-sex relationships from full-time jobs.
In New York City, LGBT students are challenging Yeshiva University’s decision to bar their student-run club from campus.
Paul Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, a 2-year-old advocacy group for LGBT students at publicly funded religious colleges and universities, said actions such as these are cause for despair.
“There’s a backlash against the rise of LGBTQ rights,” he said, and not just with “white evangelical Christianity in the South … but in places like New York and Oregon that we wouldn’t think would be experiencing this backlash.”
Pro-Christian and otherwise conservative critics maintain that tolerating sexually deviant lifestyles and having those proclivities foisted upon the entire population at large are quite different matters, actively interfering with the rights of others by forcing and coercing them to endorse behaviors to which they object on moral grounds.
Pronouns have become one of many lines in the sand, with leftists trying to use the semantic warfare as a means to blur gender-identity lines even for those who do not present as a particular gender.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Oregon dismissed a lawsuit that LGBT students filed against the U.S. Department of Education claiming it didn’t protect them against discrimination at religiously affiliated universities receiving federal money.
Houghton University, an 800-student campus 60 miles southeast of Buffalo, says it offers a “Christ-centered education in the liberal arts and sciences.”
In a statement emailed to the Associated Press on Saturday, the university said it could not speak publicly about personnel matters, but it “has never terminated an employment relationship based solely on the use of pronouns in staff email signatures.”
The university said it had previously asked employees to remove “anything extraneous,” including Bible quotes, from email signatures.
The university also shared with the AP an email outlining its new policy sent to staff.
The memo cautioned employees against using politically divisive and inflammatory speech in communications bearing the Houghton name. It also directed them to use standardized signature styles and forbade the use of pronouns.
Also attached to the statement was a copy of a letter university President Wayne D. Lewis Jr. sent to students.
“I would never ask you to agree with or support every decision I make,” Lewis wrote. “But I do humbly ask that you resist the temptation to reduce Houghton’s decision making to the simple and convenient political narratives of our time.”
Zelaya said she received an email in the fall from administrators saying the school was mandating changes in colors, fonts and other aspects of email to help the school maintain branding consistency.
She complied, she said, but retained her pronouns on her signature, calling it a “standard industry practice” to do so.
In the dismissal letters hand-delivered to Wilmot and Raegan Zelaya, copies of which they shared on social media, the university wrote that the firings were “a result of your refusal to remove pronouns in your email signatures in violation of institutional policy.”
In a video posted on Facebook, Zelaya said she already has another job lined up. In their joint YouTube video, she and Wilmot urged their supporters to push for change in policies, but constructively and with civility.
“As a result of this whole controversy, as a result of having my pronouns in my email signature,” Wilmot said, “it’s given me the opportunity to educate people on this topic.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press