Christian university accused of sacking workers for including their pronouns in emails

Sign reading "Houghton College"

A Christian university in New York has come under fire after allegedly firing two employees who used pronouns in their email signatures.

Former residence hall directors at Houghton University, Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot, were reportedly fired from their positions lat month after putting “she/her” and “he/him” in their email signatures, according to The Independent.

The university told PinkNews it has never fired employees solely because of email signatures.

Zelaya and Wilmot, who are both cisgender, claimed in a video that they decided to add pronouns to their signatures out of inclusivity, and because they both have relatively gender-neutral names. 

Wilmot explained: “My name is Shua, it’s an unusual name and it ends with a vowel. That 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. I have been mistaken as a woman over email.”

He added: “By normalising the visibility of pronouns in an email signature, I can play a small role… in empowering others to share their pronouns in an email signature, thus it normalises a less emotionally laborious way for gender-expansive people to out themselves.”

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Zelaya added: “It is pretty standard industry practice… to include your pronouns in your email signature. It’s [a] professional courtesy I can offer, and it’s a way I can show care and dignity for others.”

Shortly after the pair left their jobs, about 600 university alumni signed an open letter criticising the decision, claiming there had a been a failure over issues of inclusivity. 

“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,” the letter said. 

“In this way, Houghton is not living up to its own ideals.”

The university’s president, Wayne D Lewis Jr, published a response, although he did not name Zelaya and Wilmot.

“While we require that all Houghton employees be active Christians, our employees come from a range of Christian traditions,” he wrote.

“We do, however, 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.”

University denies firing staff ‘based solely on pronouns’

A university spokesperson told PinkNews: “While the details of individual personnel matters are confidential, Houghton University 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.”

Houghton is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, which teaches that gender non-conformity is a violation of human life, and views “gender confusion” as a “fallen condition”.

The incident comes as several states across the US are cracking down on trans and non-binary people using their correct pronouns, with Florida lawmakers introducing a bill that would ban students and teachers at state schools from using names and pronouns that do not correspond with their birth certificate.

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