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. 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. 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.

    2. Michael Holland's Avatar Michael Holland


    3. Michael Holland's Avatar Michael Holland


  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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Mike Eggleston's Avatar 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. 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. James C Riggle's Avatar James C Riggle

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

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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