Two employees at a Christian university in upstate New York have lost their jobs after including their pronouns in their work email signatures and then ignoring the university’s request to remove them.
Raegan Zelaya, 27, and Shua Wilmot, 29, were both fired from their residency director positions at Houghton University in upstate New York after they refused to remove their pronouns, in accordance with a recently introduced university policy.
The university, which is affiliated with a conservative branch of the Methodist Church, called for their pronouns to be removed, but Zelaya and Wilmot refused to comply. The couple were then fired just before the end of the semester.
The firings have now sparked on-campus protests with gender and sexuality debates taking place at other faith-based organizations, including Yeshiva University.
Houghton made changes in line with his conservative Christian peers, such as closing a multicultural student center and environmental sustainability program and revoking recognition of an on-campus LGBTQ club.
Raegan Zelaya, 27, left, and Shua Wilmot, 29, right, were residence managers; Zelaya chose to include “she/her” in her email signature, while Wilmot opted for “he/him”. Both were fired
Zelaya and Wilmot were employees of Houghton University, a Christian college in upstate New York. They were fired for including preferred pronouns at the end of their work emails
Zelaya and Wilmot, neither of whom are transgender, were both gender-mistaken due to their unique names.
The pair say they had professional, pastoral and inclusive motives for including their pronouns, but the university saw it differently and decided to terminate the pair.
“I think it comes down to: They want to be trans-exclusive and they want to communicate that to prospective students and parents of prospective students,” Wilmot told The New York Times after his firing.
“There’s the professional part, and the practical part, and there’s also an inclusive part, and I think that’s the part that this institution doesn’t want.”
Zelaya said she was fired “as a result of your refusal to remove pronouns in your email signature” and criticized an administration decision to the student newspaper.
Raegan Zelaya posted a photo of the letter she received telling her she had been ‘relieved of duty with immediate effect’
Zelaya wrote a thank you message on her Facebook page and explained why she wouldn’t remove the pronouns from her email signature
Zelaya received a message of support from a student after her dismissal. There were protests after they were fired by 600 students on campus
Shua Wilmot in a photo from Raegan Zelaya’s Facebook page in which he was told he was not allowed to eat in the cafeteria with other students and faculty members
“At the end of the day, it has no bearing on what I actually believe or what I think is sinful or not,” Zelaya said. “It all boils down to: do I love people in a way that reflects Christ?”
“We live in a very divided world right now where everything is this or that, right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. As Christians, I think we get so caught up in these ideas of, ‘This is what I should defend or oppose,’ that we forget to actually care for people,” Zelaya added.
Former students signing a letter of protest expressed concern over the lack of respect for diverse theological and ethical views within the institution.
Houghton’s president responded by emphasizing the university’s commitment to the teachings of the Wesleyan Church.
University spokesperson Michale Blakenship said in a statement that Houghton “never terminated an employment relationship based solely on the use of pronouns in staff email signatures.”
There was a series of reactions to Zelaya’s dismissal online
Houghton University is a private Christian liberal arts college in Houghton, New York and is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church.
“For the past few years, we’ve required that all extraneous material be removed from email signatures, including scripture quotes,” he said.
The controversy has caused frustration among students with differing political and religious beliefs, underscoring division over gender, sexuality and identity politics.
Although some former students have called for a more open environment to discuss their time at Houghton, decisions by the current administration have reduced that chatter.
Zelaya and Wilmot believe the disagreement stems from differing perspectives on Christian living, with the university choosing to align itself with conservative political beliefs prevalent in evangelical Christian circles.
They argue that their inclusion of pronouns reflects their desire to emulate Christ’s love and care for marginalized people.