New York state Christian university fires 2 employees over pronouns in work emails

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Two employees at a small Christian university in western New York have been fired over using their pronouns in work emails, according to reports.

Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot, both residence hall directors, were asked by administrators at Houghton University to remove the words “she/her” and “he/him” from their email signatures, saying they violated a new policy, The New York Times reported. 

Zelaya and Wilmot were fired when they refused. 

In response, a petition supporting the pair has been signed by nearly 600 alumni in protest. 

Zelaya and Wilmot said they included the pronouns because their uncommon gender-neutral names have resulted in them being misgendered in the past during email correspondence. 


“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,” said Wilmot, the Times reported. 

University spokesman Michael Blankenship told Fox News Digital the school 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,” he added. “Houghton remains steadfastly committed to offering the Christian education that our students are promised.”


In Zelaya’s termination letter, she was told she was being fired for refusing to remove the pronouns. She told the newspaper she believed the termination was the result of a difference of opinion on how to live a Christian life, but also the school wanted to appeal to conservative political beliefs. 

Houghton is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church.

“We live in a very divided world right now where everything is this or that, right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat,” she said. “As Christians, I think we’ve gotten so caught up in these ideas of, ‘This is what I should be advocating for or upset about,’ that we forget to actually care for people.”

In a response to the alumni letter, Houghton University President Wayne Lewis Jr., said the school’s commitment to the Wesleyan Church, saying it “unapologetically privileges an orthodox Christian worldview, rooted in the Wesleyan theological tradition.”

He noted that employees are expected to understand and agree to those commitments at the start of each school year. 

The firings come as schools and workplaces struggle to navigate how to operate in an ever-increasing politically divided environment as gender and sexual identity have crept into the everyday lives of employees and students. 

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that students and teachers in the state will “never be forced to declare pronouns.” 

Last year, Yeshiva University in New York City was denied a bid by the Supreme Court to block an LGBTQ+ student organization from forming on campus.

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