man holding up colorful pronoun sign
Can a school fire staff for putting their preferred pronouns in their email signature?

Is putting pronouns in your professional email signature a fireable offense? One Christian school says yes.

Houghton University in upstate New York recently fired two residence hall directors over their pronoun usage in their email signatures.

Houghton is an affiliate of the Wesleyan Church, an evangelical Methodist denomination. The fired employees say they had perfectly reasonable justification to use pronouns in their email signatures, and refused to remove their pronouns when the school asked them to do so.

Now, with alumni revolting and students fuming over the firing, the school is saying there’s more than meets the eye on this story.

They/Them Get Fired

If you ask Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot why they put their pronouns in their email signatures in the first place, you’ll get two answers.

The first is that they simply thought it was the right thing to do. As residence hall directors who have frequent communication with students, they wanted to lead by example by including a small but notable message of inclusivity in their emails.

The second is that they viewed it as simply practical. Including pronouns in one's email is increasingly common in the professional world. Plus, both former employees have uncommon names, and say they have regularly been misgendered in emails. A simple “he/him” or “she/her” at the end would ensure future email correspondence wouldn’t have the same errors.

The school didn’t see it that way.

“As a result of your refusal to remove pronouns in your email signature in violation of institutional policy… you are being relieved of your duties effective immediately,” read the termination letter sent to Raegan Zelaya, which she shared online. 

School Officials Respond

Yet, a school spokesperson says that the pronouns are only part of the story.

Houghton “has never terminated an employment relationship based solely on the use of pronouns in staff email signatures,” explained spokesperson Michael Blankenship. He points to recent requirements that email signatures be free of anything “extraneous,” “including Scripture quotes.”

As justification for the firing, the school also pointed out comments made by Zelaya in the school paper, the Houghton Star, where she was quoted as chastising the school for closing a multicultural center on campus.

“It feels like it just further demonstrates that the university is only interested in the kinds of diversity that are convenient for marketing purposes,” she is quoted as saying. “It is outrageous to have diversity as a pillar in our strategic plan when we are actively cutting the programs and spaces that help empower diverse students to succeed.”

So perhaps the pronouns issue wasn’t the only factor in their firing, but it seems it played it part.

Zelaya and Wilmot say that they can read between the lines on this one. The school's “no pronouns in email signatures” policy is clearly targeting transgender individuals, the ex-employees argue. 

Is It Trans-Exclusive?

“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,” says Wilmot. “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.”

The school “unapologetically privileges an orthodox Christian worldview” said the president of the school in a statement.

In their belief statement on their website, the school describes itself as “solidly Biblical,” stating that they believe marriage is only between one man and one woman. The Wesleyan Church, which Houghton is an affiliate of, believes that “gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition.”

In response, some students and alumni are protesting, and hundreds have signed a letter expressing concern over the firings.

What do you think? Is it reasonable for a private religious school to ban pronouns in emails? Or is the policy, as Zelaya and Wilmot argue, a means to suppress the expression of trans students and faculty?


  1. David Buck's Avatar David Buck

    If you work for an organisation that is old-style evangelical Christian, then you follow their policies, or find someplace else to work. There is an olde-tyme saying that aligns perfectly with this situation: "Who pays the piper calls the tune." This is especially true if you have previously been warned not to do something, and yet continue to do so. If you insist on being 'woke' then do not work for an 'un-woke' organisation. I have no sympathy for these two individuals.

    1. Martin Daniels's Avatar Martin Daniels

      Comment removed by user.

    2. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

      I don't feel sorry for them either. They will find much better work elsewhere and be much better off for it.

    3. Patricia Ann Gross's Avatar Patricia Ann Gross

      If the organization is marketing itself as "embracing diversity" it is a signal that it is "woke" and your comment reverses who the piper and the payer are. The responses by the university are very much counter to an organizaiton that embraces diversity, so which is it?

      BTW - "Nearly 1,000 diverse and deeply curious students – from 37 states, 17 countries – call us home, won’t you join us?" appears on its home page.

    4. Kianna Tristan Starsong's Avatar Kianna Tristan Starsong

      Lol @Patricia Ann Gross.

      1. Pastor Xal's Avatar Pastor Xal

        What's next? Name calling? In a place of education, I think the Directors preferred pronoun on an email signature doesn't signal trans exclusively. It's 2023 & they're clarifying how future salutations should be addressed. As a place of higher education, the school is signaling they're rigid with regards to their own interpretation of a "Christian Worldview". Get a different job, (both directors), that's an immovable opinion. Save your fighting spirit for a different battle.

      2. Pastor Xal's Avatar Pastor Xal

        Comment removed by user.

  1. Steven Ferrell's Avatar Steven Ferrell

    An employer has the right to say what can and cannot be used on their corporate email system. What someone uses on their own personal email they have is up to them. Some may not like it, but the company is paying for it and thus have that right.
    They have the right to look at any emails you send or receive. If they want to give students their personal email and use whatever pronouns they want for themselves there, go for it.
    I spent 40 years working different places that had corporate email addresses and they all dictated what could be on them.

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    So what? The School sets the standards on the email program at the school, NOT the students. So if the students dont want to follow the rules then they can go to school somewhere more befitting their world view.

    1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

      @Daniel Gray Here we go again.... Did you not read and comprehend what you read? You do realize you got the story wrong. Try reading the story and see if you can see what you got wrong this time.

  1. Charles Leroy Good II's Avatar Charles Leroy Good II

    Why does anyone even care about the use of pronoun's? It seems only people obsessed with hatred of others care about this.

    1. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

      I'm of an old mind set, call me anything you like, but not late for dinner.

      1. Kianna Tristan Starsong's Avatar Kianna Tristan Starsong

        100% 😬😬

    2. Michael Holland's Avatar Michael Holland


    3. Michael Holland's Avatar Michael Holland


  1. Najah P Tamargo's Avatar Najah P Tamargo

    Minster Najah Tamargo USA SBNR

    First I'd like to point out that "pronouns" are simply WORDS! I was not aware that words could be owned or directed by anybody. It is up to the author to decide which words they want to use. This comes down to basic censorship and a way to "dissuade" members of the LBGTQ+ from voicing their opinions in a public forum. And is she getting reimbursed any monies that have been paid and not going to be used as said school?? So much for "love thy brother and sister"!! Secondly, they should move the school to Florida. They'd get along just fine with our anti-everything Governor!!! Shame on ALL OF THEM!!!! And bless those of you who are not backing down!

    1. Rev. Jim Sutton's Avatar Rev. Jim Sutton

      Actually, if it's done on company time or contract, the company does have legal ownership and control over whatever is created --- regardless if it words or product. Even if it's a communication system specify set up for the company, and its employees, use.

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    Ten years ago, very few people on earth knew what a pronoun was. Now, people get upset if you use the wrong one. As a nation, we seem to be going backwards. 🤷🏼


  1. Robert Gagnon's Avatar Robert Gagnon

    Wow, reading the letter it would appear that they lived on campus, and had a perks besides. They were warned not to use the pronouns and chose to be stubborn and rub it in their faces. Insubordination is an offense you can be let go for in any state. Warning them in email supports the employers case that they willfully violated school rules. The boss might not always be right, but they are always the boss! Hope it helps with their resume.

  1. Colleen McAllister's Avatar Colleen McAllister

    Another fuss over something foolish. Are married women allowed to use Mrs.? Is that not a gender pronoun? Let people sign the way to choose to sign

    1. Lady Celynia's Avatar Lady Celynia

      Please, do not feel as if I’m being argumentative. The answer to your question is that Mrs., Mr., Miss, Master are titles, not pronouns. They serve the same purpose as Dr., Rev., Hon., etc.

      1. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

        Pronoun related titles though as they do identify male or female.

        1. Warren Calvin Wall's Avatar Warren Calvin Wall

          That is not the intent. They are indicators of status rather than gender. Many prefixes are gender neutral. Dr., Reverend, Minister, Honorable, Pastor, etc., etc...

        2. Warren Calvin Wall's Avatar Warren Calvin Wall

          Comment has been removed.

  1. ServantOfJudgement's Avatar ServantOfJudgement

    Since the Christian school also forbids biblical scriptures to be tagged onto email signatures they get a pass.

    Nothing wrong was done.

  1. James Bullard's Avatar James Bullard

    Several years ago, at least a decade back, there was a proposal to replace gender based pronouns with with hu, (a contraction of human and pronounced hue) hum, (pronounced hume), and hues, (pronounced hues). For whatever reason, most likely cultural inertia, the idea never took off and now we have people proclaiming their preferred pronouns. We don't use pronouns when address someone directly. If we say 'Hi, how are you', not 'Hi, how are him/her'. To me, that would be rude. I feel no need or desire to announce to people I don't know what pronouns I want them the use when talking to someone else about me or what I do, etc. If they are doing so in my presence I prefer they use my name.

  1. Michael Holland's Avatar Michael Holland

    Employers have the right to dictate rules and regulations. Any empoyer I have worked for provided a template for your email signature and policy and procedures to follow. If this person was advised to change their email signature and they declined, the university has every right to discharge the employee based on policy. End of story! If you are self employed you can have any email signature you like !

  1. Mark Stricklett's Avatar Mark Stricklett


    Sounds like a case of Us/Them....

    Best wishes on their employment search!


    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      There’s a certain population, of the tanned variety, that don’t know what the word employment is. 🤭


  1. Nicholas J Page's Avatar Nicholas J Page

    I have seen and answered this post before all this fuss over nothing.Its all getting ridiculous Minister Nick Page UK

  1. Rev. Mike Eggleston's Avatar Rev. Mike Eggleston

    It's simple courtesy to address others the way they wish to be addressed. This Christian school clearly has no respect for others.

  1. Matthew Mastrogiovanni's Avatar Matthew Mastrogiovanni

    Christians and they're hate and hypocrisy.

    Love your neighbor as yourself. Judge not, lest ye e judged. Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.

    If only the old testament god existed and could smite these people for their sins.

    1. Oleg Vladimirovich Shmyrin's Avatar Oleg Vladimirovich Shmyrin

      It sounds like you haven't opened the Bible. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are very different sides of God.

    2. Warren Calvin Wall's Avatar Warren Calvin Wall

      Consider that what you call "hate and hypocrisy" are actually morals and standards. Moral turpitude was a common breach of contract and resulted in many being dismissed on various jobs. Another common cause if dismissal is "employee does not meet the standards of what is expected of a ___________ employee" I've used this one a few times. It also depends on the employment laws of the particular state you are in. My state happens to be an "at will" employment state. Anyone can be dismissed without cause barring contractual and union employees.

  1. Dr. Zerpersande, NSC's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande, NSC

    If you take a job at a ‘Xtian’ university then you should be ready to deal with some screwed up policies. Deal with it. Graduating from high school in ‘72 I barely missed the draft. Would I have gone if drafted? Hehehe. I’m not pro-military. But I took a position at a military academy about 10 years later. Knew the situation, needed the job, and dealt with it. Spent a LOT of time saying ‘At ease!’ as I walked around campus. But while there I met their expectations.

    But working as a science instructor at a religious school would be a disaster for me. I think people are dumb as a sack of rocks for going to such a school but that’s none of my business. If they’d just keep their silliness inside the walls of buildings designed for such nonsense thingscwould be fine.

  1. Bridget Kielas-Fecyk's Avatar Bridget Kielas-Fecyk

    Why is everyone so caught up about "pronouns"? They are simply descriptors of nouns. Calling a door IT is a pronoun. So who cares if there are pronouns? Hell, you learn about pronouns in english lit. But apparently basic english is "evil" to them now.

    Who cares if someone puts "he / she / they" in their emails? Or someone wants to be called "he" when they were born she, and vice / versa?

    And yet people are being fired over it, and even beaten and killed over it. It's sickening and nothing more than the rhetoric of hate, to be honest. It is not the "Good christian thing" and it's not "what jesus would do". To be candid, these same individuals screaming hate about pronouns would be the same ones who would scream for Jesus to be shot and deported if he were alive today.

  1. Bridget Kielas-Fecyk's Avatar Bridget Kielas-Fecyk

    For those claiming there are only TWO genders and that being LGBTQIA+ is "unnatural", "evil", that kids are being "forced to be it", etc. WRONG.

    Genetically speaking, there are over 50 human gender variants, though outwardly, a person's gender can be born to show one of four physical appearances.

    1) Born appearing to be male.

    2) Born appearing to be female.

    3) Born hermaphroditic, i.e. showing both gender traits.

    4) Born genderless, showing no gender traits.

    Now, that being said, it's not unusual for the PARENTS to choose their children's gender if they are born hermaphrodite or genderless. However, what the parents choose may NOT be what the gender of the child actually is. Nor does their outward appearance always show their true gender as well.

    Allow me to explain.

    You see, genetically speaking, as I stated earlier, there are multiple human genders, and there are many, many MORE gender variants. You can appear to be female by birth, and yet, genetically, be male. Internally, at the genetic level, your DNA shows that you are actually "wired" to be male, as it were.

    You can appear to be male, by birth, and yet, genetically, be female. Internally, at the genetic level, your DNA shows you are actually "wired" to be female.

    So, despite what some individuals may espouse and claim, there are FAR more than two human genders. Hell, even by birth, you can physically be one of four outward appearances. And it is, I assure you, all completely natural. There is no "god" factor with this, or a "devil" factor, or anything supernatural involved. For those who believe in such a thing.

    It all comes down to how your DNA came together before you were ever born. So for those saying individuals who are LGBTQ+ are "unnatural", and those disparaging Trans individuals as "refusing their birth-right", you're wrong. It's completely natural. And, in fact, an individual transitioning to the other gender may, in fact, be simply gaining the physical appearance they were meant to have all along.

  1. Marion Sowerby's Avatar Marion Sowerby

    Part of the problem appears to be that Reagan Zelayah was being misaddressed in the first place. This, I can understand, as my given name (like hers) can be used as male or female. She is quoted as being misgendered in several communications. Secondly, fundamentalist types seem to have taken over the US in many areas. The Methodist school I was brought up in was very accommodating as regards student/staff home background - we had multiple Jehovah's Witnesses, a couple of kids from a Jewish family and a Muslim who were all excused from our religious assembly on a Friday morning (the priest came in from the chapel next door). I have a they/them in the family, and am not in the slightest bit disturbed except for they are my in-law, and I don't know the correct terminology - "person-in-law"? My interpretation of most of the basic etiquettes in Religion is "Don't be a dick". I just wish that "devouts" would do that.

  1. Brien's Avatar Brien

    Ok, here we go. Please buckle up and place your brain in the up right position. Now, let's start at the very beginning. First, I don't give a spit what labels people chose to subjugate themselves with. It only serves to reduce people to things. Second, if you choose to work for a zealot organization, then you deserve what you get. If there is anything truly important here, I fail to see it.

  1. Rev Ned's Avatar Rev Ned

    A lot of commenters here need to see Disney’s Bambi again, paying close attention to what Thumper’s mother said.

  1. Ronald Edward Howlett's Avatar Ronald Edward Howlett

    In my opinion, OBVIOUSLY NOT A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL.Remembering "the woman at the well let" He who is without Sin, CAST the First stone." Forcing Mans will upon another is not GODS WORK. To all Believing Christians, PRAY FOR GODS HANDS TO SPREAD CHRISTS LOVE OVER THIS INSTITUTION. GOD BLESS THEM ALL

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      Is your god real then? 🤔


  1. Shango MasterExorcist, D.D.'s Avatar Shango MasterExorcist, D.D.

    If political activism created the first human language, then they might have something to say even now. If human language evolved naturally, let it continue that way. The science of linguistics is a wonderful thing. People inventing opinions about pronouns don't even know that the word means, and wouldn't even know how to use a linguistics text book for a door stop.

  1. Michael Holland's Avatar Michael Holland

    Watch "The Glorias" On Prime, it is the story of Gloria Steinam, its a bit avant garde as it moves back and forth from adulthood to childhood however it is historically correct. The word "Ms" was established by her movement. When I was in the working world I always asked people how they would like to be addressed. Common sense seems to not prevail these days as we are hung up on what the politicians want us to do, remember the US government is by and for the people, that will never change!

    1. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

      Reestablished. It was established as short for mistress for a few hundred years before already.

  1. James Riggle-Johnson's Avatar James Riggle-Johnson

    Do they realize that Mr., Miss., and Mrs., are pronouns? Do they not allow those either?

    1. Lady Celynia's Avatar Lady Celynia

      Please, do not feel as if I’m being argumentative. The answer to your question is that Mrs., Mr., Miss, Master are titles, not pronouns. They serve the same purpose as Dr., Rev., Hon., etc.

    2. Rev. Dr. Father JJ's Avatar Rev. Dr. Father JJ

      Please Mr. Riggle, do not attempt to apply your horrible and evil logic to people who - not unlike the wicked witch of the west when water was dumped on her - are repelled and melted when exposed to logic and common sense.

  1. Rev. Dr. Father JJ's Avatar Rev. Dr. Father JJ

    I bet the school administrators (like our own Daniel Gayr here) think they are model chrz chnz and doin' the lordy lordy's werk

  1. Daniel Todd Kamm's Avatar Daniel Todd Kamm

    A pronoun takes the place of a noun in certain language constructions. End of story and full stop.

    What a pronoun means seems to be a problem, especially for those who can't figure out what a pronoun in the context of modern culture means and whether it is acceptable in the language, and really that's it.

    Wesleyan is usually slightly more progressive than this, so wondering why the problem?

    But the Methodist Churches have been at each other for some time, progressive versus conservative.

    Perhaps they should take a hint from my grandmother's playbook and refer to children, and especially men as "it?"

  1. Robin Call's Avatar Robin Call

    If you have a penis…you are considered a Mr., male, man, he, or a him. If you have a vagina…you are considered a Miss., Ms., Mrs., female, woman, a her, a she. Some names are unisexes like mine so if I want to put that I am a her after my signature then I should have the right to do that. It is insulting when a person refers to me as a Mr. when I am a Mrs. based solely on my name. So no there should be no problem with using pronouns. Pronouns cut out a lot of stereotyping, confusion, insults, and misunderstandings. In fact, I will throw away mail, send back, or disregard the mail if it is not addressed correctly because it is a federal offense to open up another person’s mail. It is everyone’s right to notify others on how they want to be addressed. It is proper etiquette/manners too.

  1. Lady Mutt Cat's Avatar Lady Mutt Cat

    Your right to identify yourself on a business address is not a hill to die on. If someone tried to forbid you from doing so in your private life, that would be another story. These folks have traded their jobs for PC BS.

  1. Karen Houston's Avatar Karen Houston

    I for one am about to give up. My daughter is gay and thinks pronouns are stupid. And a big dislike for Trans people that think thay are entitled.

    While my straight son is like I'm a cis male, he/him, and black lives matter. Blah blah blah.

    And my oldest son is like why mom why?

    All lives matter,

  1. Rev Ned's Avatar Rev Ned

    I’m truly confused about this. If choosing your gender is OK, why is choosing your ethnicity wrong? No one has been able to explain this to me. Can any of you???

    1. Bridget Kielas-Fecyk's Avatar Bridget Kielas-Fecyk

      You can't really choose your ethnicity, your ethnicity is what you were born as. Your genetics. Your gender can also be genetic. You're not really choosing your gender, you're simply accepting what your gender REALLY is, despite what you may appear to be.

      1. Rev Ned's Avatar Rev Ned

        Still confused. BTW, I think Rachel Dolezal got a raw deal. If she IDs as African American, why not let her. IMHO, she harmed no one.

    2. Rev. B's Avatar Rev. B

      Yes. Apples / oranges.

  1. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

    Unfortunately because religious organizations are allowed to make those decisions it's going to end up pushing out really great professors from those religious schools. We are going to see a pretty big shift to there being fewer people in churches and religious schools and a bigger push towards more secular public organizations and schools. This is feeling more and more like the death throes of religious movements, trying to cling to what they want to be and leading to the end of it. The tighter they cling, the more chance they choke it out.

    1. ServantOfJudgement's Avatar ServantOfJudgement

      Not really. War and social collapse always spawn revival. The kids with their fingers on the global control box are itching to see what the red button does.

      You know how it goes, 6 atheists enter a life boat and they pull 5 Christians out 2 weeks later....

  1. Patricia Ann Gross's Avatar Patricia Ann Gross

    While pronouns to help allies show solidarity with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, this shows another side benefit, and that is for those whose name does not project the person's gender. I have responded to this issue in other sites that while my name is female, my appearance (short hair, broad shoulders, small bustline), mannerisms (working in traditionally male occupations), and voice (speaking voice is mid-range to low) often generate responses that indicate I am perceived as male (including male pronouns and calling me "sir"), therefore I use them in my signatures. I also have a large number of transgender and gender-nonconforming friends, so I also use them because I am an ally.

  1. Rev. Jim Sutton's Avatar Rev. Jim Sutton

    Given all the 'people' pronouns out there, I can "identify as" PLURAL (me, myself, and I) with the pronouns of we/us/they/them/their (there's plurality right there !). 😁 Can you imagine how long and drawn out any type of communicating could be if everyone technically adhered to using all this pronoun wordage. Unbelievable.

  1. Jennifer Angel Marsh's Avatar Jennifer Angel Marsh

    No, this is clear injustice and BULLSH*T!!! It's pronouns, for crying out loud! Rehire those two ppl! It's not christian to exclude ppl for whatever reason. This dump of a school should be ashamed of themselves! This is obvious hate and bullying and needs to STOP!!! How dare you call yourself a "religious" and "christian" school! Either hire those two back and STOP this hate or rename your school "Hateful University"! This school needs to close! Shame on you!!

    1. Gene Schenck's Avatar Gene Schenck

      Put the schools administration on and iceberg on the equater

      see how long they stay in power. God gave us the power to speak why does the school say you can not speak. Do they think they have the power over God I do not think so.

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