A private Christian university in upstate New York fired two employees in April who would not remove their pronouns from their work emails in accordance with a new school policy.
Houghton University, an institution affiliated with a conservative branch of the Methodist Church located about 60 miles south of Buffalo, fired Raegan Zelaya, 27, and Shua Wilmot, 29, as residence hall directors after they refused to remove to remove the words “she/her” and “he/him” from their email signatures, the Daily Mail reported Friday.
Michael Blankenship, a university spokesman, said in a statement to The New York Times that Houghton “has never terminated an employment relationship based solely on the use of pronouns in staff email signatures.”
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“Over the past years, we’ve required anything extraneous be removed from email signatures, including Scripture quotes,” he said.
Zelaya and Wilmot, neither of whom is transgender, told The Times they had a practical reason for including their pronouns: They have uncommon, gender-neutral names, and said they have often been misgendered in email correspondences.
“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 said.
The university is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, which in its view of gender identity and expression believes “based on our biblical and theological study, there is no argument for a ‘third gender’ among humans. 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.”
More than 600 Houghton alums signed an April letter to University President Wayne D. Lewis Jr. protesting the firings and other changes at the university.
“We write with hopefulness that Houghton University will welcome curious and compassionate dialogue on differing ideas rather than making efforts to ignore, silence, and penalize faculty, staff, students, and alumni who attempt to engage in these conversations,” the letter stated.
“We insist our voices be heard because we care deeply about Houghton and its future. We want it to once again be a place that we are proud to call our alma mater and would enthusiastically recommend to the next generation.”
Lewis responded with a letter May 1, reaffirming the school’s commitment to the Wesleyan Church, saying it “unapologetically privileges an orthodox Christian worldview, rooted in the Wesleyan theological tradition.” He noted employees are expected to understand and agree to those commitments at the start of each school year.
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