employee says his religion prevents him from using the correct pronouns for trans or non-binary coworkers

A reader writes:

I’ve got an older employee who has been very forthright with me about his opinion of LGTBQAI2+ people based on his conservative religious beliefs. He says he doesn’t have a problem working with them, but problems started when I explained that if we ever hired someone in our department who identified as non-binary and used they/them pronouns (for example) he would be expected to use them. He has told me his religion (and therefore, he himself) believes people are going to hell if they act on homosexual feelings and I believe he also includes transgender individuals under this umbrella of sin.

He said he felt that if he used those pronouns, he would be accepting that “lifestyle” and he didn’t feel comfortable doing so. He would rather just use their name. I told him it’s a matter of respect for our fellow humans to use their pronouns as requested.

My organization is more and more outwardly supportive of DEI initiatives, including public support of Pride, an employee support group, etc. and I do not feel this is in line with our institutional values. He has said he would quit over this if he felt our organization forced him to accept it, and in his mind having to use someone’s correct pronouns would be an example of being forced to accept it (I think?).

However, how do I handle this if he is claiming his feelings on this matter are due to religious beliefs? I am not going to change his mind about this and am curious from an HR perspective about what to do. I want to create a welcoming space for all employees but am at a loss here when his identity is so at odds with others’.

He can privately feel however he wants, but he can’t refuse to use people’s correct pronouns at work because the law says that’s discrimination based on gender identity, which is illegal.

The fact that his reasons are religious doesn’t change that: The law is clear that employers cannot grant religious accommodations that violate state or federal law.

So you can’t legally permit an employee to discriminate against or create a hostile environment toward employees with gender identities he doesn’t approve of (or recognize, or whatever his argument is).

I suspect you’re getting tripped up by his invocation of religion since you know you’re supposed to try to accommodate people’s religious beliefs when you can. But the law doesn’t require accommodations that would pose an “undue hardship” to the employer — and courts have repeatedly affirmed that creating legal liability would be an undue hardship. It might be more intuitive if you think of other situations where someone’s religious beliefs would conflict with your legal obligations to your staff as a whole; for example, if an employee requested a religious accommodation allowing them to treat colleagues differently if they were women, or of a different race, you wouldn’t be able to grant that either.

The law does encourage employers to engage in what it calls the “interactive process” to figure out if there’s any other accommodation you could offer, although I’m hard-pressed to think of a workable one here. In one court case (Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation), a teacher who refused to use his students’ correct pronouns on the basis of his religious beliefs was offered an accommodation where he’d refer to everyone by their last names only — but they had to rescind that after getting complaints.

Regardless, you can’t legally grant an accommodation that allows an employee to use the wrong pronouns for their colleagues. Your employee will need to treat all his coworkers with respect or you would need to deal with it like any other serious disciplinary issue.

Read an update to this letter. 

{ 718 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi all. Because this is coming up a lot below: It’s not a good solution for the employee to just use the trans/non-binary person’s name all the time, and never use any pronouns for them. First, to be legal they’d have to do it for all their colleagues, not single out certain ones. Second, it’s obvious when someone is doing that and it reads transparently as a hostile act toward trans/NB people, so it’s not an acceptable solution. (There’s a lot more explanation of this below if you’d like to read more.)

    1. pope suburban*

      I mean, yeah, that’s pretty much it. If you feel that you can no longer do the job you were hired to do, you leave. Thinking about every pharmacist who refused to fill prescriptions here, and not warmly. Let him go if that’s the hill he wants to rudely die on.

      1. Allie*

        Oh, gosh, yes! IMO, it’s not okay for a pharmacist to be unable to carry out the basic functions of their job (I.e. verifying the safety, legality, and appropriateness of prescriptions [to a certain extent as consistent with the law, their professional ethics, etc]). A friend was not able to get emergency contraception after an assault at the only pharmacy within walking distance open on Sunday in her small town. She would have had to wait until Monday to try at another one, and there’s no guarantee they would fill it either — and every 24 hours of delay, it is significantly less effective at preventing pregnancy. So refusing to fill the prescription had a serious effect on her future health, as she has a chronic illness and has been advised a pregnancy would be high-risk. I drove five hours to her to take her to the 24-hour chain pharmacy in a larger town nearby. If that pharmacist couldn’t do his job, he should not have been hired for the position! When she called the large chain pharmacy he worked for, she was told that he satisfied the company policy by referring her to another pharmacy in town, despite the fact that it would not be open for almost 20 more hours. Ugh.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            It’s a pretty common state law in the US to shield from consequences pharmacists who refuse to fill a birth control prescription. (Oddly, the law doesn’t seem to shield pharmacists who have a religious objection to dispensing insulin from pigs or believe dispensing Viagra thwarts God’s will. How peculiar.)

            The 2021 movie Plan B is about driving around the Midwest just trying to find a place that will dispense that medication.

        1. Burger Bob*

          I’m a pharmacist, and that kind of thing drives me up the wall. If you feel religiously compelled to not dispense a certain medication, fine, but then don’t work at a place that sells that medication! It’s not like that’s the only possible gig a pharmacist can get. Find a different job if you aren’t willing to do the one you have.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Exactly! I’m a member of a peace church and I have a religious objection to building weapons. That means that I don’t work at Lockheed Martin, not that I work there but refuse to do my job.

            1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

              Ditto! I just don’t apply to anything that requires a security clearance. (SOME of them might be okay — but who has time to filter that?)

      2. Zap R.*

        Exactly. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. If we wants to be a dink, he can go be a dink in the unemployment line.

    2. Jester*

      That was my thought! If he says he’d quit, let him.

      Maybe even let him quit before a new hire has to face the discrimination. His stance isn’t in line with institutional values or human decency.

      1. starsaphire*

        Except the people who threaten to quit over things rarely do so, or at least not right away.

        It’s great to fantasize saying, “Well, Bob, we’ll sure miss you,” with a big fake smile, though! :D

        1. Observer*

          He doesn’t need to quit. He simply needs to be faced with the real world choice. In many cases, people like that will fall in line.

          If someone gets hired and he does misbehave, then you simply lay it out. “This is the expectation here. Can you follow the rules or not?” And if he wants to have it both ways, you simply repeat that that’s not an option. Either he agrees to the rules or he’s out. If he STILL pushes back? “We accept your resignation.”

          Just make sure that you have your ducks in a row. Make sure that you know what the process needs to look like and how to set it going.

          1. NWP*

            Agree w/Observer. Make sure you’re prepared with documentation to show this man that it’s the law, religious accommodation not granted, if he pushes back. And also make sure you know what to do should he need to be let go or resign.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Ahh yeah, we had a guy at an old job who loved to bluff like that. “if XYZ then I’ll just quit!” and our manager would fall over himself to stop him from leaving. (which included dumping that guy’s work on me and another teammate, which in turn led to me quitting.) Well guess what happened a few weeks after I left. We had a reorg and got a new manager right before I left. Apparently this guy tried to pull the “well then I’ll just quit!” with the new manager, who calmly responded with “I consider this your resignation notice. Your last day is (date).” Turned out guy had never meant to quit after all. Begged to be allowed to stay, said it was a joke – “nope, you quit, your last day is (date 2 weeks in the future).

            It works. Do this if you have to, OP. It works!

    3. JSPA*

      Alternatively, his proposed solution of using names rather than pronouns only works if he does that for everybody… and if he fails to use gender-specific titles / honorifics for everyone, as well. Its theoretically doable, I guess…heck, he could call everyone “Captain” and it would merely be a quirk, rather than discrimination.

      I’m more worried about the people who are currently there who are being subjected to his opinions, in the meantime. Sure the letter writer may not have anybody who is out at work (as any of the above)– But as long as you have Mr. Dinosaur pontificating on sin and damnation, who’s going to come out??? Unless this is a religious institution, And the worker performs a function with a significant religious component, there is no legally-legitimate reason for him sharing his religious beliefs of who is going where after death.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It never seems to apply to everyone — only the people these folks don’t like. This almost never happens when they’re asked to call someone Jon vs. Jonathan, or if a woman changes her name after getting married. It only seems to occur when pronouns are involved, or sometimes when they can’t pronounce the name of an Asian/African/etc. coworker.

        I hope he does quit.

        1. Rainy*

          It sometimes DOES happen if a woman *doesn’t* change her name after getting married, or if a man changes his or hyphenates, though. Funny about that!

          I definitely hope he quits, because he sounds extremely tedious and hateful, but I also hope that every washroom he ever tries to use is almost but not quite completely out of toilet roll.

          1. Random Dice*

            Or if a man takes his wife’s last name, like my friend did. Gosh it seems like there should be a name for this trend.

        2. Allie*

          There was a DoD civilian employee at my last Army duty station who would only call male soldiers by their rank and last name. Female soldiers got called “Miss” or “ma’am” or even FirstName if he knew it. Somehow, this was allowed to continue under a twisted interpretation that by using “Miss” and “ma’am” he was “simply being extra-polite to women because his religious beliefs told him to respect women”….Nobody dared push an EO complaint because the base commander was notoriously misogynistic, so anyone daring such a complaint would see their career derailed or at least have the brakes put on it.

            1. Allie*

              Thanks for the kind response. I would not be lying to say this was perhaps the least distressing bit of misogyny most female soldiers will encounter. In the 15+ years since I medically retired, my friends have shared any number of hair-raising stories. There was a woman in my platoon who got an abortion at 10 weeks at her own expense. She unfortunately chose to return to duty two days later, since she was using up her leave days, but since the procedure was done by a nonmilitary provider, she didn’t have the protection of a “profile” — a document which lists what physical activity a soldier can do after illness or injury. So, her wonderful, “pro-life” sergeant decided to “smoke” her almost constantly, using any tiny perceived infraction to make her do punishing calisthenics like sit-ups and squats. She eventually started bleeding badly, but he wouldn’t let her use the latrine or go back to the barracks to change, saying she “deserved for the stain of her sin to be visible on her body like it was on her soul for murdering her baby”! I tried to get her to go to the ER, or the EO office, but she was afraid of making things worse. At sick call the next day, the medic who saw her wasn’t much better. I truly could not make up a story that was more awful than what she went through.

              1. Allie*

                Although, to be fair, I should admit that I am absolutely mortified that as a new sergeant, I was utterly boorish about my soldier’s need to express breast milk during a field exercise. I can’t look back at it without cringing in shame for how obtuse and rude I was.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Addressing women by their (presumed) marital status is not polite and respectful; exactly the opposite, actually. “Miss” should fall by the wayside. And how is calling someone by her first name considered polite in any way whatsoever? Private Smith is Private Smith whether he’s male, she’s female, or they’re neither. Not Private Smith but Miss Judy.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              The French government actually banned the use of “Mademoiselle” but you wouldn’t realise it. Men still use it, they’ll call older women that as a sign that they look like they’re younger than 25 (which is the age at which all women used to be called Madame whether or not they are married). Even my bank still sends messages to Mademoiselle MouseyHair despite me telling them that I am Madame. (and I’m more than double 25…)

              1. BlauerKeks*

                We had a similar thing in Germany with “Fräulein” (basically “little woman”). But I’ve never heard anyone use it since it fell out of fashion hard, thankfully

              2. rusty*

                Oh god. I hate, hate, hate when someone looks at me and decides I’m the right age and gender to be pleasantly flustered by having someone (pretend to) think I’m much younger than I am. It’s the most misogynist, ageist, patronising BS and I just can’t.

      2. Timothy (TRiG)*

        Gendered pronouns mostly come up (in English, at least) when talking about people, not talking to them. So calling everyone Cap’n will rarely help.

        1. JSPA*

          “Cap’n” was intended to deal with the separate but linked issue of gendered honorifics / titles.

          If he wants to use names in place of pronouns for everyone, and gender neutral honorifics and titles for everyone in place of gendered honorifics and titles, it’s weird…but it’s equal.

          And of course, he’d also have to not share his reason for doing so. “It’s a quirk of mine,” not, “The LGBTQIA squad will put me on a cross like my Savior if I get pronouns wrong, so I’ve renounced all pronouns.”

      3. April*

        I’m suddenly reminded of a video game I played a while back (Sunless Sea) that gave you the option, at character creation, to pick what title you wanted to use. They had the expected ones like Mr and Ms, but also stuff like “Citizen” and, yes, “Captain”.

    4. NerdyKris*

      The question from the LW was whether they could enforce the rule without opening the company up to liability. Saying “Well just let them quit” doesn’t answer the question of whether doing so would get the company sued.
      Think of it from a different angle. If someone said “I’ll quit if you don’t stop telling me I’m going to hell for being non christian”, the advice isn’t “Well then quit” unless you want a lawsuit.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Which Alison did address. If he quits and says he was forced out because they wouldn’t accomodate his religion, then they counter with what the issue was.

        He can STAY and sue saying he is being forced to act against his beliefs.

        If someone is determined to sue, they will find a way to do it. There is no way to lawsuit proof a company. All you can do is follow the law which says you can’t make a religious accomodation that allows discrimination against a protected class. If he quits over it, he quits.

        1. Allie*

          Wasn’t there a teacher who refused to use proper pronouns for his trans students, was disciplined, sued the district/school, and was actually awarded a settlement?
          (Google break)….
          Apparently, a Kansas teacher received a $95k settlement after suing them, and an Ohio teacher filed a similar lawsuit in December after being forced to resign over refusing to use preferred pronouns for trans students.

          I can understand why a district might settle rather than pursue a potentially expensive and ruinous lawsuit, but I worry that sets a precedent that will encourage other districts to do the same. Why is it that the beliefs one small sliver of one religion seem to be the only important ones any more?

            1. Allie*

              In some areas, yeah, but I suspect Florida would snap them up, and they are having a lot of vacancies right now in teacher positions…

          1. soggy bottom*

            We allow people with orcish beliefs the same privilege as decent people. We allow it when we should be fighting them with fire.

            1. Anon Again... Naturally*

              I recently read the best counter I’ve ever seen to the ‘Paradox of Tolerance’ (the idea that if you believe in tolerance, you can’t be intolerant to those who are intolerant). The original was more eloquent, but it boiled down to the idea that Tolerance is a social contract- meaning that in order to be protected by it, you have to agree to it. I am keeping that in my back pocket for people like the OP’s employee- he can believe whatever he wants, but he will act with tolerance and respect or he won’t get any back from me.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                Actually the Paradox of Tolerance points out that tolerating intolerance such as OP’s coworker causes intolerance to spread and grow. So the only thing that should NOT be tolerated is intolerance. I’ll post a link.

                1. Bella*

                  I mean or murder or arson or a million other things that harm other people. We don’t tolerate intolerance because it harms other people.

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  @Bella, we *shouldn’t* tolerate intolerance, but American society has tolerated it far too long.

              2. Willow Pillow*

                I saw that too – here’s the text:

                “The Paradox of Tolerance disappears if you look at tolerance not as a moral standard, but as a social contract.

                If someone does not abide by the terms of the contract, then they are not covered by it.

                In other words: the intolerant are not following the rules of the social contract of mutual tolerance. Since they have broken the terms of the contract, they are no longer covered by the contract, and their intolerance should NOT be tolerated.

                No citation on the infographic, unfortunately – it just says ‘inspired by “Tolerance if not a moral precept” by Yonatan Zunger’

                (also, responding to DJ Abbott’s “actually…” – this concept came about as a complementary response to the Paradox of Tolerance)

          2. JHS*

            For an ongoing similar situation here in Ireland, google ‘Enoch Burke’. He and his family could keep AAM going for months!

          3. Teapot Unionist*

            There was also a teacher who was fired and then sued and successfully got reinstated because he gave a speech at a school board meeting where he said, “I am a Christian and if there is ever a transgender student at my school, I will refuse to use anything but their birth name and birth pronouns because of my religious beliefs.”

            The courts determined that you can’t fire someone because they say they *would* violate policy, you have to wait for them to actually violate the policy.

            But also, as our in-house counsel likes to ask, “what religious belief prevents you from referring to someone as they wish to be referred. where is that in the Bible?” and typically, the response is “thou shalt not lie” to which the immediate response is “Oh, so you have never lied before? You are always 100% truthful? If someone asks you if they look fat in an outfit, you would never lie to them? You’ve never answered “fine” when someone asks you how you are doing? and your week has been terrible? Why is this “lie” more sinful than lying about your day?”

            1. WillowSunstar*

              Yeah, as someone who grew up around those kinds of people (but disagree strongly with them as an adult), those kind of excuses never held water for me. I knew a lot of people in my (as a child) conservative Christian church who lied constantly and would hear stories from my classmates about their parents. And my conservative fundamentalist mother, who while dying of cancer, would answer “fine” if someone asked her how she was doing because she didn’t want to get into the specifics or gross them out with descriptions of chemo side effects.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        But in your example the harassed person is the one threatening to quit. And the harassed person has a “hostile work environment” case if they’re being told “non-Christians go to hell, you unbeliever”. In this case, the person who is saying they would be the harasser is the one who would also quit if “forced” to use someone’s pronouns that he thought he didn’t agree with–and that’s a lawsuit he’d lose every time, for the reasons Alison pointed out.

        1. DanniellaBee*

          “A lawsuit he’d lose every time” seems like a risky statement to me. I think it depends heavily on the state and whether that state has chosen to designate gender identify and or sexual orientation as protected class. In California he would lose but in many other states he could win.

            1. Allie*

              Is that confined to employment law? I’m thinking of cases like the bakery owner who went all the way to the Supreme Court to defend their right to discriminate based on orientation.

              1. Lydia*

                The Colorado case dealt specifically with how the Commission treated the bakery differently than they had previous requests for exemption, so it wasn’t really about the religion, but more about how the State addressed it. In Oregon, the bakery was found in violation, but their damages were reduced. There’s no one standard for each case; they’re all being treated independently depending on assorted factors.

              2. Clisby*

                Assuming we’re talking about the Bostock decision, the Supreme Court ruling specifically states that it applies in very narrow circumstances. From the majority opinion:

                ” The employers worry that our decision will sweep beyond Title VII to other federal or state laws that prohibit sex discrimination. And, under Title VII itself, they say sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and dress codes will prove unsustainable after our decision today. But none of these other laws are before us; we have not had the benefit of adversarial testing about the meaning of their terms, and we do not prejudge any such question today. Under Title VII, too, we do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind. The only question before us is whether an employer who fires someone simply for being homosexual or transgender has discharged or otherwise discriminated against that individual “because of such individual’s sex.”

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Unlikely he would win – but most people, and companies, prefer to settle and pay some smaller amount than fight to the very expensive even if they win end of the process. And paying settlements, even if no liability is admitted as part of the settlement, is often seen by newspapers and bystanders as “proof the person who sued was right”.

            A Worldcon a few years back was hit with a nuisance suit at one point; all but one of the several points the person tried to sue on were thrown out entirely, demonstrating how much the suit was nonsense, but the last one was allowed as they felt enough case could be made that arguments from both sides would have to be heard – and even though they’d likely have won that one, too, they preferred to settle and pay.

          2. Mary*

            I agree with DaniellaBee. He might lose. But I’m tired of the attitude that it’s completely obvious that society can and should be allowed to put words in this person’s mouth. It’s not completely obvious to me that the nonbinary person’s rights don’t end at this worker’s lips. I doubt that a poll of the entire judiciary would find no votes in favor of the religious worker and no possible legal compromise.

            1. nela*

              What are you suggesting then, that the company violate the law as it currently stands because in the future it’s possible that law could change? That makes no sense!

            2. JSPA*

              The workplace is not a free speech zone. “Mode of address for coworkers and clients” is absolutely something a workplace can specify.

              I mean, this isn’t news?

              Compare if you work at a theme park; you know you may well be required to use the character name and defined mode of address for a character. She is Queen Minna Marsupial, My Queen, or Your Glittering Majesty. And that’s true even if the person in the costume is your spouse, and out of costume, his name is Todd.

              In any job, you may well be required to say “Sir” to a personal friend, rather than your habitual greeting of, “Yo, Don” or “Hey, Raniel.”

              You may be told that when you work the cash register at the hospital cafeteria, you can’t by default call all the men “Doctor,” and all the women “Nurse,” even if that’s what makes sense to you, based on what things were like 60 years ago, when your mom had the job.

              “I get to decide for our clients and for my coworkers, what their names are” is a nonstarter in all kinds of situations.

              “I reserve the right to enquire as to your chromosome, shape of your junk and/or birth certificate before I deal with you” has never been a default.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Except that would be discriminating against that person based on religion, which is not what’s happening to Mr. I Think They’re Going To Hell. He’s the one who wants to discriminate; he’s not being discriminated against.

    5. lilsheba*

      Agreed. I’d be saying “ok thank you BYEEEEEEEEE” as they head out the door. There is no excuse for this blatant discrimination.

    6. RJ*

      Exactly this. There’s no way of accommodating his religious intolerance with the inclusion currently set as law. He should be spoken to respectfully, but authoritatively and sternly informed of what will be accepted in the workplace and what will not. He can then choose his path accordingly.

    7. Stacey*

      I think he came up with an excellent solution, and his manager is the one being difficult by not accepting it. Pronouns are not required. Using the wrong pronouns would be wrong, but simply not using them at all is fair. It’s ridiculous to say that’s not a solution when it absolutely is.

      1. Dawn*

        The law specifies that you cannot treat someone in a protected class differently than you do other people.

        His proposed solution does technically work, legally, if, and only if, he can commit to never referring to anyone in the organization or that he deals with through work by gendered terms, at all.

        It also is arguably still othering and potentially creating a legally hostile/unsafe work environment if it gets out that “Bob can’t use any pronouns because he hates trans people but we still let him work here.”

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Please let’s not be harsh here. It may be that Stacey is not that familiar with these issues and hasn’t quite thought it through. Others have given explanations, that hopefully Stacey will see and mull over.

      2. Random Dice*

        No, it’s bigotry and it’s illegal.

        You thinking it is reasonable just means that you’re ok with illegal bigotry.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Please let’s not be harsh here. It may be that Stacey is not that familiar with these issues and hasn’t quite thought it through. Others have given explanations, that hopefully Stacey will see and mull over.

      3. BubbleTea*

        I invite you to take note every time you use a pronoun during the course of a standard day at work, and then come back and tell us that this would ever be remotely workable.

        I just used four pronouns in that first sentence alone, for example.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          Except that we’re really only talking about third person pronouns (she/her, he/him) not first person or second person pronouns. There’s no issue with “I,” “you,” and “us.” It may be feasible to avoid utilization of third person pronouns by using the person’s name instead — but not once you’re flagged that you’re weaponizing their pronouns to intentionally misgender them. It’s also possible to avoid using preferred pronouns by using “they/their” instead, but most people who want to have this fight are not willing to use to do that either.

          My point is that, while not condoning it because obviously the easy and acceptable solution is to speak to and about people as they wish to be spoken to and about, I think it IS possible to avoid third person pronouns relatively inobtrusively. But most of these people, like this guy, are not looking to be inobtrusive; they want people to know their offensiveness is intentional. So eff that guy. Set expectations and if he doesn’t meet them, move him out.

      4. Eater of Cupcakes*

        Like I exemplified in another post of mine, using somebody’s name all the time is super awkward. Here’s an example:

        Magdalena said Magdalena would go where Magdalena always goes when Magdalena’s unhappy, but Magdalena didn’t say where it is Magdalena goes when Magdalena’s unhappy.

      5. Nesprin*

        You used 2 pronouns in this post- I think this may be evidence that they are required indeed.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Stacey used 2 second person gendered pronouns – and six pronouns total (“it” is a pronoun, and even second person, though it’s usually applied to an object/concept and ungendered. “I” is a pronoun.)

          Which likely makes the point even more vividly.

      6. The Leanansidhe*

        I’m non-binary and encounter this occasionally. When people only use my name and not pronouns (ever), it’s very obvious and almost never also applied to cis people. Feels pretty pointed. I suppose if Bob never used pronouns for anybody, it could work, but seems like a tough habit to break.

        1. KH in Seattle*

          I have avoided pronouns in the past, not because I disapprove of a non-binary person’s lifestyle, but to avoid the horrible faux pas of accidentally using the wrong pronoun.

          I am a slow learner who only learns from repeated mistakes… and I know how terrible it is to get it wrong.

          I made this mistake with a non-binary good friend of mine. They are a friend and I apologized immediately and they graciously accepted my apology, but we can’t anticipate such mercy from people we don’t know as well.

          1. vegan velociraptor*

            honestly, I’d far far rather someone accidentally used the wrong pronoun for me than that they tried to avoid my pronouns. The latter would feel really weird.

          2. Teapot Unionist*

            I practice singular they/them now intentionally both to normalize in my head/mouth, and to show others that it is normal. I no longer say “he or she” or “his or hers” and default to “they” or “theirs” in writing and in speech. We all do use it in speech all the time when the person we are talking about is unknown or hypothetical. for example: oh no! someone dropped their keys! Let me run back in and leave them with the front desk so they can hopefully find them again!” or “this unknown number is calling me. I wonder what they want?” So, now, I use they/them more intentionally in writing to normalize it and have used it intentionally to refer to someone I don’t know if their gender expression is ambiguous to me.

            Like, my son asked me what I had said in a favorite restaurant lobby, and I told him, “The host said your favorite sandwich is available today, and I was just telling them “thank you!””

          3. Dawn*

            I’d argue that it’s more disrespectful to assume that people won’t respond like rational, mature adults if you make a mistake, but ok.

          4. J*

            I honestly can’t tell if you mean to be antagonistic here or not.

            No reasonable trans person believes that it is a ‘horrible faux pas’ to use the wrong pronoun by genuine mistake, nor do we consider it ‘mercy’ to be normal about another human making a mistake.

            How would you feel if you read a comment from someone that pre-supposes that you regularly flip out on strangers who made an error in good faith?

      7. Humble Schoolmarm*

        It’s a lot harder than you’d think to avoid pronouns. I do it sometimes when I’m communicating about a kid who’s out at school but not at home because I need to protect their safety, but I also don’t want them to be misgendered on a legal document. Thankfully, this is in line with the policy of my school district that says we must use preferred (I know, not the best wording) names and pronouns and we cannot out a student to their parent. In any case, even in a short piece of writing, like a report card comment, it takes a lot of work to not be super awkward and draw attention to the fact that I’m avoiding gendered pronouns. I doubt Mr Bigot could consistently pull it off in spontaneous conversation.

        1. Zak*

          “The Individual In Question”
          “The Student”

          Writing everything in third person helps, even if it feels clunky at times.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          I can imagine! I’m guessing a lot of passive voice? (“Homework was always turned in on time”).

          Also, thank you for your thoughtfulness and effort to protect your students!

        3. Elsa*

          I had this situation with a student last year. In the end I found a simple solution for the report card – we wrote all the comments in second person, e.g. “Alex, you always do your homework on time, and you participate well in class.”

      8. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I feel like if this is his proposed solution, he should be expected to start using it now. With everyone. Consistently.

        That gives him plenty of time to either adjust all his speech patterns to not use pronouns at all, ever, or disregard the idea as unworkable in favor of whatever his next plan is without having all of this unfold in front of whichever new (or newly-out) colleague would be the one he particularly decided he wasn’t “allowed” to use correct pronouns for.

      9. Grammar Penguin*

        I defy you to go one full day at work without using pronouns in your speech. None at all. Go ahead, try it.

    8. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Literally. He can either use the correct pronouns, or he can quit; his religion doesn’t trump another’s legal rights.

    9. Michelle Smith*

      Exactly. Let him quit. I am nonbinary. I work with deeply religious people all the time. They are perfectly able to address me respectfully. This man could too, if he chose.

      To be clear, we all make decisions and actions all the time that violate people’s religions. It is unreasonable to expect someone who doesn’t follow a particular religious sect to adhere to its rules. If he can treat his coworkers who don’t cover their hair, have premarital sex, etc. with respect, he can use the singular they.

      And by the way, the Bible says quite a lot about following the law and respecting secular authorities. Perhaps this man is not as holy as he thinks he is.

    10. I&I*

      “If you feel obliged to quit, let’s talk timing and handover. Otherwise, I expect you to comply with the law and respect everyone’s pronouns. Why don’t you sleep on this and we’ll discuss your decision tomorrow? I’ll put this meeting in writing and you can sign a confirmation of its accuracy for our records.”

      Don’t let him mess about. Treat it as a serious proposal. Either he means it, in which case good riddance to bad rubbish, or he’s trying it on, in which case this needs to be the first instance of a documented process of closer monitoring and, where necessary, discipline over treatment of his coworkers.

      Whichever way he jumps, this is serious. Make him live with the consequences, or you’ll be looking at a miserable environment for everyone else.

    11. Fishsticks*

      Yep. He can quit or he can show basic human respect to a coworker, but he doesn’t get to have his cake and throw it at someone too.

    12. Wingwing*

      My exact thoughts too.

      He has said he would quit over this


      (And as a nonbinary person who hates all personal pronouns when applied to me and would rather just be called by name, I am very amused at Allison’s pinned comment.)

  2. mbs001*

    He can certainly choose to use their given name — no one can force him to use the pronouns. But if he does use a pronoun to address them, it must be the employee’s chosen one.

    1. Antilles*

      As a thought exercise, that was the only accommodation I could think of. Basically that it’s agreed that the employee will NEVER use pronouns for for anyone ever and exclusively uses actual names.

      Of course, that’s purely theoretical; in reality, he’s absolutely not following that agreement. At most, he might last two weeks before going back to pronouns, complaining it’s ridiculous, or just passive-aggressively ‘forgetting’.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, I’m not sure that would be true. If it’s apparent that he’s going out of his way to avoid using pronouns for trans and non-binary people and not for anyone else (and there are some conversations where it would be both obvious and awkward, if it’s a conversation where normally pronouns would need to be used a lot), it could constitute a hostile environment.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        Also, would someone who believes they cannot use pronouns for someone that do not match what they would expect based on their genitalia, would that person in fact *use* the correct name? Or would he insist on dead-naming (or…making up a name??) the trans or nonbinary employee? I’m pretty sure that would also fall under the “cannot recognize any gender not predicated by my decision on your genital formation” umbrella.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Excellent point. They would probably dead name since using the correct name would be “supporting that lifestyle.”

          There was a letter about someone who did this, insisting on using the deadname because that’s what the person’s mother used. The manager came down HARD on that BS.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            That story was epic. Deadnamer was fired and the HR person who allowed it to continue while OP/manager continued to push the matter was retrained, as of the last update.

        2. Lavender*

          That’s a really good point. When he says he’d rather just use their name, I’m guessing he means their deadname if he knows it. If not, my guess is that he’d make up a nickname or refer to them by their job title.

          1. Nina*

            AND THAT WOULD BE FCKN RIDICULOUS and out him as ‘definitely doing this to be hateful and not for religious reasons’ because there’s no religious grounds to get salty about people changing their names.

            – signed, a cis woman who has changed her first name by deed poll but kept her last name on entering a legally recognized relationship, and actually goes by a name that has no relation to either, to a response of zero hassle from any of her most religious acquaintances.

            1. Lavender*

              Yes, exactly. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have a problem with someone changing their name for any other reason. He also probably has coworkers who go by nicknames.

            2. Worldwalker*

              I live in South Carolina. I think half the people around here go by names that are not the ones on their birth certificates. And I don’t mean Robert Smith being known as Bob Smith — I mean Robert Smith goes by Fred Smith.

              Thing is… it’s not hurting anyone, me or anyone else (except maybe the people at the DMV) if I call the dude with Robert Smith on his birth certificate “Fred” if that’s what he wants to be called. Or Mary. Or anything else.

              My aunt’s birth name was Roberta. When she was a child, she declared she wanted to be called “Pat”. There were people at her funeral who didn’t know that wasn’t actually her legal name. Nobody cared, either.

          2. The Leanansidhe*

            I use a gender-neutral nickname in daily life. I choose not to share my full name in spaces where I don’t have to, because it is gendered and some people will insist on using it instead of the much-preferred nickname.

        3. ferrina*

          Yes, I was also on this train of thought. At first I wondered about using names instead of pronouns, but this employee would likely insist on deadnaming a colleague (I hadn’t thought about Alison’s point about clearly different treatment for colleagues).

          1. Rainy*

            It’s also really obvious and disrespectful if you replace someone’s pronouns with their name.

            “Hey Jerry, please bring the group up to date on Jerry’s project? Where is Jerry at with the widget data? Does Jerry need any support from Sue? Amelia, has Amelia completed the marketing for Jerry’s project?”

            1. Lavender*

              It’s even more obvious if you’re only speaking that way about one person out of a group. “Jane is out of the office, but she’ll be back on Friday. Steve is filling in for her, so he’ll be running today’s staff meeting. Alex will be sitting in on the meeting because Alex will be taking notes for Jane while she’s absent. Steve told Alex that Alex should talk to him if Alex needs any extra support.”

              1. DyneinWalking*

                Well, actually… if you don’t just replace pronouns with names but are willing to restructure whole sentences to avoid the need for pronouns it sounds a lot less bad. Still clunky because the grammar is less natural, but it can be done.

                Here’s an adaption of your example:
                “Jane is out of the office but will be back on Friday. Steve is filling in instead and will be running today’s staff meeting. Alex will be sitting in on the meeting to take notes for Jane during the absence. Steve told Alex to come for a talk anytime if any extra support is needed.”

                I’m just mentioning that as a side-note, though, and only because people seem so insistent that it’s impossible, not as something material to the main discussion.

                (Source of my claim: I speak German as a mothertongue which has formal and informal yous. You inevitably run into situations where neither seems appropriate so you end up restructuring every single sentence you utter. With my boyfriend’s parents, I managed to avoid the direct form of address completely for well over a year(!) (tbh there was one awkward moment, but apart from that I coped fine). People from languages with similar formal/informal distinctions can probably relate… )

                1. SW*

                  It still sounds like discrimination to me and I’d be pissed that management let me be treated like that. You can make it sound as “not awkward” all you want but it’s very clear that I’m being treated differently because of my gender. Which is discrimination.

                2. Woodswoman*

                  I actually find myself speaking this way a lot, but for an opposite motivation. I live in a very conservative area where it is extremely unusual for people to share their own or politely inquire about the pronouns of others. For that reason, I typically try to avoid misgendering anyone or using the wrong pronoun by just utilizing pronouns less frequently and using they for everybody until I’m informed otherwise. Obviously, if someone discloses their pronouns, I’ll use whatever they tell me to use for them.

                  My partner is a cisgender woman who is constantly misgendered because she has a penchant for short hair and cargo shorts. She is pretty good natured about, but it can still be awkward. Especially because people on all sides get it wrong- some people assume she’s a guy, but lots of people (who are good intentioned!!) ask if they should use male pronouns because they assume she is trans. I find that speaking in the way described above is the best way to respectfully communicate until/unless someone gives you direction on the issue, because you just can’t tell what pronouns someone prefers by looking at them. Obviously, this is a bit of a tangent- OP is talking about someone who knows damn well which one to use. Just adding these thoughts because I don’t think speaking that way is inherently “othering” to people.

                3. Lavender*

                  In that example you’re not using pronouns for anyone, though. OP’s employee presumably only wants to avoid pronouns for trans and nonbinary coworkers, which would indeed be noticeable. If the employee wants to cut pronouns out of his vocabulary entirely, that’s fine, but he can’t just do it for certain people.

                4. Kotow*

                  In the sentence you used, it works because it’s really quick and my guess is in common speech most people wouldn’t notice it as much. It’s more noticeable in writing, and for extended periods it would be hard to use consistently. I spent a semester in a theology class trying to write this way because she required that we only use inclusive language (so we weren’t allowed to use “He” in place of “God”). I tried my best, but inevitably a pronoun slipped in there. Reasonable people can differ about a “reasonable” amount of accidental pronoun dropping but I think ultimately, it’s just not sustainable long-term because people don’t speak that way naturally.

                  I agree though that for something like this, you’d have to go pronoun-free for everyone. It’s similar to the letter from several years ago with the candidate who wouldn’t shake women’s hands. The accommodation in a job setting would be that you don’t shake *anyone’s* hands rather than not shaking hands of a particular gender.

      2. MarsJenkar*

        That was the finding in Kluge v. BCSC, wasn’t it? That the use of “last names only” failed to solve the problem, and only thinly veiled the existing hostile environment. Even students who were not directly targeted stated that they felt uncomfortable in that environment.

      3. One of the Annes*

        I don’t see how this (employee using only his coworker’s name and no pronouns–even if he did this only with coworker) would rise to the level of “hostile” work environment legally. To create a hostile work environment, the employee’s conduct would need to be “unwelcome, pervasive, severe, and persistent” and be “meaningfully disruptive to the victim’s work.” Employee’s suggested plan does not fit this definition.

        1. allathian*

          It’s othering behavior. I suggest you read what people who’ve been directly affected by exactly this behavior have to say about it. Plenty of examples in this thread.

        2. Aitch Arr*

          You’re wrong.

          Copied from the EEOC’s website: “Harassment becomes unlawful where […] 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

          Note the “or”s. Not “and”s.

      4. More than my name*

        I am a Trans person and I had a person in the workplace who did this to me and it was awful.

        And obvious to everyone else.

        Not only that, but others who had been having “Difficulties” started doing it and I had to get D&I involved.

    3. Starscourge Savvy*

      Refusing to use pronouns at all for a specific coworker is just as transphobic as using the wrong ones. It sends the same hostile message.

      1. Starscourge Savvy*

        Accidentally pressed Submit too soon! In addition, not everyone goes by their “given name”. Using that as a marker is highly problematic. I had a coworker that refused to use pronouns for me at all, and only used my given first name, which was available in our email and other company software, but was not what I went by. This is also serious transphobia.

      2. cloudy*

        As someone who uses they/them pronouns, it’s also PAINFULLY obvious when people do this. So many people do verbal cartwheels to avoid using my pronouns, thinking they’re being subtle, when really doing this is a very clear and direct communication that the person is uncomfortable with me.

        Sometimes the people who do this even believe they are supportive of trans/nb people, but don’t realize that being supportive requires more than just not saying hateful things. It requires actually going through the effort of changing their habits/behavior.

        I’ve also encountered some pretty bonkers excuses from coworkers and acquaintances on why they can’t use the right pronouns. For example, one time someone asked me if they could just use my name and not use pronouns for me at all because….. they were studying for the SAT.

  3. Salsa Verde*

    Yeah, this dude is trying to use religion to be a jerk.

    However, I remember I worked at an organization that hired a man who was an Orthodox Jew, and so could not shake hands with women. I thought HR told us that had to be accommodated; I didn’t realize that was illegal. I thought his religious beliefs were respected. Maybe they just told him not to shake hands with anyone? I guess that would work.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      Yeah, I don’t know if that situation (not shaking hands with women) is illegal. He is still interacting with women. Not shaking hands does not equal misgendering someone.

      1. Mid*

        It likely would be—treating people differently because of their gender isn’t okay and is usually illegal. So no hand shaking = good solution. Shaking hands with people while excluding a group of people = not a solution.

    2. Kara*

      My guess is that shaking hands isn’t a requirement. There are plenty of reasons why someone wouldn’t want to shake hands – maybe someone is a germophobe or has sensory issues or something like that.
      So you could refuse to shake hands with anyone w/out having to mention why and not fall afoul of any legal issues.

      1. ferrina*

        Not exactly. If you are clearly only shaking hands with men and not women, that’s pretty obviously different treatment based on sex and/or gender. Best solution is to not shake hands with anyone (same set of behavior with all genders). (also note that germaphobes and sensory issues are not based on sex/gender- everyone gets equal treatment)

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I wish, as someone who just doesn’t care for touching strangers, that we would just give up on handshakes entirely. I was hoping covid would free us from them and it seems like it’s helped, but it’s not 100%.

        2. Fishsticks*

          Yeah, I feel like the best accommodation there is to make it so he shakes hands with nobody, so it’s across the board and not singling out women specifically.

    3. CatMom*

      I don’t know that it is illegal — the employer can’t allow him to act with bias, but after all, as you point out, he can just avoid shaking hands in general. That’s not really an undue burden; lots of people don’t shake hands, and it would be weird to force someone to shake hands regardless of circumstances. (And, for what it’s worth, many Orthodox men I know DO just avoid shaking hands altogether when outside of the Orthodox world, precisely because they don’t wish to make women feel uncomfortable.)

    4. Julia*

      I can’t recall the last time I shook hands with a coworker other than when I first met them. I’ve run into this in the past with Orthodox men and it wasn’t an issue. A quick “I don’t shake hands” takes care of it. They were able to work with me beyond that one issue and it wasn’t a problem. Shaking hands isn’t a core work duty.

      1. Old and Don’t Care*

        Well, that’s your job. Many jobs, sales and others, have many meet and greets where people shake hands. Someone shaking all the men’s hands but not the women’s would come off badly to many people. Shaking hands may not be a core job requirement but not offending potential customers may be.

        I agree that not shaking hands with anyone should not be an issue.

        1. Hex Code*

          Yes, I think that in some jobs you could argue that it is part of the core function of the job, or close to it — not insurmountable, but not irrelevant either.

    5. Bibliothecarial*

      There was a letter about that lo these many years ago. If I remember rightly, Alison’s advice was that he not shake hands with anyone. Someone else said they have known people who inclined their heads instead of shaking. So, he did not have to shake with women but he also could not treat them differently because of their gender – that’s drawing the line.

    6. EPLawyer*

      I guess it FEELS different. Like the not shaking hands is not AT ME. It’s just a thing. I probably wouldn’t even notice or think its no big deal. It’s not really imposing their religion on me.

      Refusing to use the right pronouns seems more AT the person. It seems more like imposing religion. I am not going to see you as a person so I get to call you whatever I want. Maybe because names and pronouns are more personal than a handshake?

      1. Jojo*

        We don’t do a lot of handshaking in my office, but when we do, it’s normally a big group of people involved. I would take it very personally, if someone snub just me because I’m a woman. I get where you are coming from, but it’s really dependent on context.

        1. Solokid*

          it did not feel like a snub when I got a deep head bow and smile from one gentleman. They still largely greet people with equal enthusiasm in the workplace which is the important part.

      2. H2*

        I am not saying that the two situations are comparable, but 100% if a group of people is being introduced, and a man shakes hands with all of the men, and not with me, he is definitely doing that AT me.

      3. Call Me Dr. Dork*

        Oh, it can feel at you, all right. I was at a relative’s funeral and it felt BAD when the rabbi was shaking all the men’s hands and then skipped over me entirely because of my girl cooties. Maybe it would have been better if there were other women there, but it was a bunch of men and me (but then I’m in STEM, and that seems almost normal). No wonder why I don’t darken the door of a synagogue very often….

        1. Random Dice*

          Don’t let the Orthodox influence your view of 90% of Jews. Please know that Orthodox are only 10% of Jews, and are pretty much the opposite of the rest of us.

          My Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues are deeply affirming of gender equality, LGBTQIA+ folks (heck at least a third of the Jewish clergy I know are rainbow), and social justice. We will gladly shake your hand, with consent.

          1. FormerHominid*

            If they were at a relative’s funeral I suspect they ARE Jewish or of Jewish decent and know that.

      4. Kotow*

        In a group setting where you’re the only woman and the person shakes hands with literally everyone else? I would notice it and yes, it would feel othering. I doubt I would say anything about this, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be noticed. That’s part of the problem here in that the solution of “no pronouns” sounds like it’s a solution but in practice, we just don’t speak that way and it’s really obvious when people are using pronouns for everyone except one specific individual. I think ultimately, the solution would be you don’t use pronouns for **anyone** (awkward, and unnatural, so likely unsustainable long-term) just like the solution in the handshaking letter was to just not shake hands with anyone (likely more sustainable because a handshake is such a quick moment).

    7. Silver Robin*

      I am not sure where I fall on this, but pulling from what I have seen of Orthodox Jews and Muslims who do not shake hands with different sexes/genders, they still obviously greet the person. Hand over heart and a bow/inclined head seems to be the most common. One Muslim friend would give me fist bumps but not hugs. Sure, I noticed, but I also did not doubt that he valued me as a friend just the same as the guys. Granted, this is friends not colleagues, but I think is analogous.

      I definitely understand that onlookers might be judgmental, but as a potential recipient, I just care that the attention paid is of similar quality/quantity, not that I get a handshake. If there is an equivalent greeting made and no other indications of differential treatment, would that not be okay?

      For the sake of experiment, what if somebody did the following: women got high fives, men got fist bumps, and folks outside the binary got handshakes. Would that be bad?

      Again, I am more than willing to be wrong here; I am not sure.

      1. Dawn*

        In this case it’s not about what’s socially acceptable, it’s what the law states, which is that you can’t treat anyone significantly differently in the workplace based on a protected-category characteristic such as gender identity except in the (rare) cases where it is an actual business necessity.

        1. Silver Robin*

          Hmm, then I wonder if this is something that is technically illegal but only moderately enforced depending on context. Because I would find it so irritating to have to tell somebody who reports to me that their genuine, respectful, and socially acceptable attempts to balance the requirements of their religion with Western business norms are, actually, futile. How demoralizing.

          I get why the law is the way it is! I even generally like the law. It just also feels like an obvious example of something that only exists because humans were/continue to be bad at treating each other well. If folks just did not do the bigotry thing (both now and in the past), we would not need/have needed half of these. Sigh.

          1. Dawn*

            It does, of course, depend very much on context; if nobody has an actual problem with it, there’s no real need to bring the law into it or enforce it (although it raises other questions, such as whether those coworkers would actually be able to treat their reports equally if they were promoted/not advantage certain classes of employee in other ways like having more personal access to them.

            People can absolutely agree that, yes, this is a quirk that we can all accommodate. The letter of the law is that everyone must be treated equally, or at least not materially differently.

          2. doreen*

            “For the sake of experiment, what if somebody did the following: women got high fives, men got fist bumps, and folks outside the binary got handshakes. Would that be bad?” This would actually be worse – not shaking hands with people of the opposite sex based on religious requirements that prohibit touching, I can understand. In this example, hands are touching, just in different ways.

            If nobody complains about the Muslim/Orthodox Jewish/Christian coworker who greets the sexes differently , then nobody complains. But I don’t understand why the hand over heart/head bow can’t be used for both sexes. There may be a religious reason for a man not to shake a woman’s hand, but as far as I know there is no requirement to shake anyone’s hand.

          3. ecnaseener*

            I don’t get why you’ve jumped to “futile.” It seems to me that the obvious way to balance these two priorities is to pick a respectful greeting that works for you and your religion, and use that for everyone at work regardless of gender. Whether it’s a fist bump or a nod or whatever, it’s as simple as that, just don’t add the extra element of assigning greetings by gender and you’re golden.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Yep, might feel fine socially, but it would probably be illegal discrimination in the workplace.

      3. Fushi*

        I think it would be a problem, yeah. First, being treated differently based on gender ties into larger issues even if this particular discrimination isn’t “meant in a bad way” or whatever, and some of us (especially those who have experience being singled out due to gender in the workplace on a constant basis) aren’t going to be comfortable with that, period. Second, how are they deciding who gets what gendered treatment? If they’re deciding based on appearance, that’s a problem. If they’re putting people on the spot to ask if their true gender aligns with perceptions of their gender presentation, that’s also a problem.

      4. Theo*

        As a nonbinary person, that would be Bad. I don’t want to be treated differently based on my gender. (Inside OR outside of work, frankly, but outside of work I can choose not to associate with people who do. Inside of work, it’s not just unpleasant, it’s illegal.)

    8. Andrew*

      The question of Orthodox Jews and handshaking is probably a question of “undue hardship.” In most cases, everyone would understand that it’s a religious tenet, and one with a history behind it. (As a sidenote, part of my problem with the unfair “religious exemptions” is that they don’t have a history. There’s nowhere in the Christian Bible that says “Thou shalt not bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding” or “Thou shalt not call an assigned-female-at-birth person ‘he’ or ‘they.'”)

      So if a woman at an office went to HR with a number of complaints about different treatment, saw multiple times that men were greeting with handshakes all around and women were being snubbed, there would be a case for making a new policy, and expecting employees to follow it fairly. But in the absence of those complaints and complicating factors, it’s easy enough to respect someone’s practices.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Yeah, that is why I wonder if it is only something that gets dealt with when there is a complaint. Because until somebody feels snubbed by it, everyone else gets what is going on and can take the behavior with the intended respect (both for others, and one’s own religious tenets).

        1. Appletini*

          Your phrasing implies that no snubbing can possibly actually be happening, though. Take the example of the funeral Call Mr Dr. Dork cited above, where she was pointedly passed over.

      2. Rebecca*

        I don’t like putting the burden on the woman who is being treated differently to be the one who solves the problem. If I am the woman in the room whose hand is pointedly not being shaken, in your scenario, my choice is to either see that all the men in the room whose hands are being shaken don’t see a problem and keep my mouth shut, allowing myself to continue to be treated differently and with less respect, or to initiate a complaint, adding more emotional and actual labour to my list, opening myself up to criticism and perhaps further discrimination on the basis of being the one who rocked the boat, allowing myself to be blamed for a changed or unpleasant environment. We all know that people who make the complaints often face consequences for that.

        It’s easy enough to just respect the women in the room.

        1. Julia*

          Anecdotally, the men I’ve encountered who don’t shake hands with the opposite sex simply avoid shaking hands all together. They do other social acknowledgements instead.

    9. Dubious*

      This feels different to me, too, vs. refusing to use the pronouns someone needs.

      I haven’t been in a situation of someone shaking hands with others but then refusing to shake hands with me, so this is hypothetical experience. It probably comes down to, if someone isn’t shaking my hand, are they still communicating respect for me in a way that I understand, and that doesn’t make me feel less than? I’d probably feel a bit weird if I were the only person or one of the few people who got a small bow or hand over a heart instead of a handshake. But the gesture and acknowledgment is there, and as others have pointed out, it’s a one-time thing.

      Someone refusing to use my pronouns is purely disrespectful. It’s the same as refusing to use my actual name. And it would happen all the time, so it would be disrespect over and over and over.

    10. A person*

      We run into this in food production plants where you maintain a Kosher certification. If the Rabbi shows up… the women know they aren’t allowed to shake hands with the Rabbi. We are all trained as such. I have no idea if it’s legal… they aren’t actually part of the company so I don’t think they could enforce anything on him.

      We did have some managers that tried to say that women couldn’t participate in the kosher inspections but that isn’t the case (and does get closer to being discriminatory especially if used as a reason to not hire someone that has to work on those kind of audits), we just aren’t allowed to touch the Rabbi… which honestly most of us are cool with… I’ve only ever had one that refused to also speak to a woman if there was a man present (which honestly… in manufacturing, is pretty common behavior with many of the men…), but mostly other than the handshake thing it’s been fine.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        Then the Rabbi shouldn’t shake hands with anybody. It’s great that there’s a tacit understanding in your workplace and everybody is fine with it, but if one woman was NOT fine with it, then it would be her burden to point out that she is being treated differently from all the men in her workplace, and that this is not okay. And then she becomes the difficult one, the whiner, the outsider who is making things harder for everyone. Why should she have to be that person to just be treated the same as her male coworkers? And “my version of Judaism means I can’t touch women” is not an excuse, because AFAIK no version of Judaism requires hand-shaking at all. If in doing a thing you can’t treat people equally, and you don’t have to do the thing, then you shouldn’t do the thing.

  4. MEH Squared*

    This is why Alison in the expert and I am a mere commenter. She had a reasonable and measured response. My immediate thought was, “Good. Hope the door hits him on the ass on his way out.”

    I have many issues with the way this country handles religion, but it’s pretty clear in this case that his religion does not trump over an LGBTQ+ person’s equal rights (for now, anyway).

    1. Bunny Girl*

      Right? I work with a group of really difficult people and every time they throw a tantrum and say they’re going to quit I’m just like yeah that’s fine? LoL. Like Oh no… Don’t go…

    2. EPLawyer*

      I had the same response — See ya, don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya. I might even mutter it exactly like that under my breath.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Pretty much my reaction. If someone said ‘according to my religion Sarah isn’t married because she’s with another woman therefore I get to call her a slur’ then it’s really the same thing. If you’re a bigot and you get fired/asked to leave then it’s your fault.

  5. Venus*

    He said that he prefers to use their name. Provided it is the person’s preferred name then the employee doesn’t need to use pronouns. If this is what he means then it may not be an issue. We use pronouns as substitute for a person’s name, for example She said this, He worked on that, They moved over there. It’s reasonable to say Jane said this, Steve worked on that, Aurora moved over there. The use of a name instead of pronouns will feel repetitive in a longer conversation but if that is what the employee intends to do (rather than use the wrong pronouns) then that feels workable. I know people who use this system when they are getting used to someone’s new pronouns and are working hard to not use the wrong ones, whereas knowing that this approach is used by someone who is… not a very nice person makes me less happy about it.

    1. Wilbur*

      Isn’t part of the problem treating that one employee differently (only referring to them by their name) than any other employee?

      1. Starscourge Savvy*

        I can almost guarantee he would only refuse to use pronouns for a trans/NB/etc. coworker. Regardless, refusing to use pronouns for someone is just as transphobic as purposely using the wrong ones. It sends the same, hostile, message–I don’t respect you enough to call you what you want to be called.

        1. Danish*

          I also don’t believe he could pull it off! Most of the people who make this argument don’t actually know what a pronoun is at all, and we are trained as english speakers to use them all the time. 100% he would slip up at some point and use some kind of pronoun. Because this is all performative.

          1. EPLawyer*

            “There are no pronouns in the Constitution.”

            Like LITERALLY THE FIRST WORD is a pronoun.

            1. Lavender*

              I once saw a tweet that said something like, “Shakespeare didn’t use pronouns. You don’t see him writing things like ‘My name is Macbeth and my pronouns are they/them.'” Speaking as a Shakespeare historian: 1) Shakespeare absolutely used pronouns, and 2) if you’re going to make the claim that Shakespeare doesn’t discuss gender in his writing, Macbeth is a particularly terrible example to use.

              1. I am Emily's failing memory*

                what in the world?? I don’t even understand the relevancy of this argument. Do those people things have to be plot points in a Shakespeare play to be valid?? Shakespeare never wrote, “my name is Macbeth, have you seen my iPhone?” either, does that mean smartphones are wrong? what.

                1. Lavender*

                  I think they were trying to suggest that there’s no historical precedent for gender nonconformity, which is…very wrong. Either that or they were trying to put Shakespeare up on a pedestal as a perfect human being whose worldview was correct 100% of the time, which is…also very wrong.

                2. Pippa K*

                  “my name is Macbeth, have you seen my iPhone?”

                  This made me laugh – thanks for that!

              2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                Well, don’t listen to Shakespeare, he had his plays performed by men in drag /s.

                1. Allie*

                  Yeah, some columnist pointed out that the places outlawing drag that might possibly be seen by minors would criminalize Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie, and even the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan. And none of those places has a remotely similar law against exposing minors to cis-het nudity or sexual content (of course drag is absolutely automatically containing nudity or sexual content — far from it — just pointing out that even if it were, its opponents would still be making a hypocritical argument because of the disparity in treatment between cis-het content and any potentially racy drag content).

              3. MEH Squared*

                “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.”

                Sure a lot of pronouns for someone who didn’t use pronouns.

                1. Anne Elliot*

                  “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew Yorick, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; Yorick hath borne me on Yorick’s back a thousand times . . .”

                  Yes, that sounds the same. /sarcasm

              4. Twelve Knights*

                Not only did Shakespeare use pronouns, but he used the 3rd person plural “they” as a singular.

              5. Burger Bob*

                Wow, um, yeah, if you’re wanting to hold up a dead writer as a paragon of not exploring gender or sexual nonconformity, Shakespeare’s not your guy. You don’t have to look very far in his writings before you find examples, and that’s without even having to go into the totally normal cross-dressing by actors of his time.

              6. Lenora Rose*

                I believe someone pointed out the entire greeting to the witches is pretty much, “Er, how do I address you politely? You look like women except you have beards, so I’m not sure what to use.”

                (you can argue the whole phrasing might not be very polite by modern standards under the iambs and meter, but it is literally asking a gender nonconforming person their preferences.)

          2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Yup, and lots of people will complain about pronouns and in their complaint use they or them when referring to an individual. Which would be funny if it wasn’t so hurtful.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              Yup, I once saw something like “I am not calling anybody ‘they’. That implies they are more than one person.” They got a few replies along the lines of “um, maybe reread what you just wrote there.”

            1. ferrina*

              He could only apply it to third-person pronouns, which feels fair.

              But if he’s going to do that, he ought to start now. He probably has no idea if his colleagues are the gender assigned at birth- what if (gasp) he’s already working with a trans person?

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Most of the people who make this argument don’t actually know what a pronoun is at all

            If Twitter is any indication, this is spot on.

          4. Irish Teacher*

            I also suspect he might well make a point of doing it in a pointed way. “I asked Steve what Steve though about the widgets and Steve said that Steve thought…” which would very much send a hostile message.

            And yeah, it’s hard to see him keeping it up.

          5. sofar*

            A family friend tried to argue with me that she didn’t use they/them for a person, because it was “grammatically incorrect” to use the plural for a singular. I argued people use “they” to refer generally to “person whose gender is undetermined” all the time. She told me she NEVER did. She always uses “he or she” if gender is not known. Because she cares about grammar that much.

            Best believe I jumped all over her like an hour later when I heard her say, “Hey, do you know who has the Toyota? They’re blocking me in?”

            I care about grammar AND inclusivity, and I am petty. Normally I hate parties, but I LIVE for this stuff.

            1. Allie*

              Way to go! I always snicker when someone documents the use of they/them as gender neutral going back to the 1600s.

            2. Sylvan*

              LOL. Also, singular “they” predates singular “you.” If “you” isn’t too newfangled for her, then it’s time to move on and adapt.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              I don’t know about your family friend, but they HAMMERED “they is plural, not singular” into us in school. It stayed that way in my head until I went back to college as an English major (my first round was music so that didn’t dislodge it). Thankfully it’s finally gone!

              1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                I can’t count how many arguments I had with my teachers in the mid-90s because “they” made a lot more sense than the “s/he” they were enforcing!! Glad that grammar rule fell out of favor quickly.

            4. LK*

              If it’s “grammatically incorrect” to use a plural for a singular, I hope she’s real confortable using “thou” instead of “you” when speaking to an individual.

        2. dackquiri*

          Exactly. And the way the guy’s bringing it up… I get very bad-faith, troll-y vibes. The “trojan horse compromise” feels like a very familiar ploy. It feels reasonable if you don’t scrutinize it, so you agree, and then you’re subjected to a bunch of:

          “I talked to Samantha at her desk to get her take but she didn’t have this year’s projection. Then I thought John might, so I sent him an email asking if he had them but he didn’t have any, so he pointed me to Peyton. So I called Peyton on the phone but Peyton wasn’t picking up Peyton’s phone and so I had to leave a message on PEYTON’S voicemail. HEY, PEYTON, IS SOMETHING WRONG? Oh, I just noticed that Peyton ran Peyton’s hands over Peyton’s face while I was talking about P E Y T O N

    2. a trans person*

      Alison covered this, if not quite explicitly: it would only be ok to avoid pronouns completely if (1) it was that person’s preference (I know people who prefer their names to they/them) or (2) they avoided pronouns for everybody. If someone is avoiding using *your and only your* pronouns, trust me, it is obvious and it is an aggression.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I have been in situation 1 — my colleague hadn’t settled on his pronouns yet and preferred we just work around it with his (now dead) name as much as humanly possible. You don’t realize how much you use pronouns until you try this! “I was talking to Sam about Sam’s new assignment and we decided Sam should do XYZ.”

    3. Lavender*

      I think that’s fine to do if you’re only mentioning them briefly: e.g. “Sam said the reports should be finished by 5:00.” It gets trickier when there’s no non-awkward way to phrase things without using pronouns: e.g. “Sam said to leave the reports on Sam’s desk. Sam also wants to have a quick meeting in Sam’s office before Sam leaves for the day.” There comes a point where you can tell that the other person is deliberately Not Using Pronouns, and that’s problematic as well.

      1. Lavender*

        To clarify: by “fine to do” I mean that it likely wouldn’t be noticeable, not that it would excuse this person’s behavior.

      2. ferrina*

        I’ve done this as a linguistic exercise to see if I could actually do it. It is doable, but it’s really, really hard, and you have to be very linguistically nimble.

        But that also sidesteps that this guy would only be doing this in reaction to a new colleague’s identity, which is not okay. If he is really this dedicated to not using a pronoun, a reasonable accommodation is that he doesn’t use any third-person pronouns for individuals, starting now. He can change his linguistic habits to suit his beliefs, rather than demanding others’ change their identities to suit his linguistic habits. Besides, this guy is assuming that he isn’t currently working with any trans colleagues- how does he know everyone he works with is the gender assigned at birth?

        1. Lavender*

          I agree completely. He can decide to stop using pronouns for everyone at work, but he can’t *only* stop using pronouns for trans and nonbinary employees.

          And yes, he wouldn’t necessarily know for sure that he doesn’t have any trans coworkers–even though transphobes like to claim that they can “always tell.” Or he might have coworkers who are pre-transition, or nonbinary but still using pronouns that align with their gender assigned at birth for now. In my case, I’m nonbinary but not out at work, and I would not feel safe working with this guy.

      3. Elitst Semicolon*

        It’s like Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla. Rufus found a kangaroo who followed Rufus home and now that kangaroo belongs to Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla!

        1. Modesty Poncho*

          I think about this song every time these arguments come up!

          We found them and they found us and now they are ours and we’re so happy, thank you pronouns!

        2. Irish Teacher*

          As a learning support teacher, I just wanted to say thank you for alerting me to the existence of this song. It sounds like something I could make use of.

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Schoolhouse Rock! So very 1970s groovy. So very very good. I think everything is on YouTube

      4. Required*

        But one could reframe that whole conversation.
        “Sam said to leave the reports on the desk, and wants to have a quick meeting in the office by the end of the day.”

    4. Mandie*

      What if a trans man chooses to go by a masculine name, and the “religious” person refuses to use that too?

      1. Mandie*

        My point being someone who refuses to respect requested pronouns will also not respect names that don’t “match” the person’s gender at birth.

      2. Nina*

        Then the religious person can be told to cope. There’s plentiful Bible characters who go by names that aren’t the names they were born with, sometimes because God told them to.
        (Abraham, Sarah, St. Paul, and St. Peter spring to mind)

        1. Mandie*

          I agree, I was just supporting the point that using the person’s name in place of pronouns will not work. This person is not opposed to the pronouns; he is opposed to the fact that trans and non-binary people exist.

    5. Eater of Cupcakes*

      I know it’s been said, but it warrants repeating: Using somebody’s name instead of pronouns stands out like a penguin in the desert, and it does so very quickly. Like this:

      Magdalena went to Magdalena’s home, and Magdalena took out Magdalena’s bottle of soda from Magdalena’s fridge where Magdalena kept Magdalena’s beverages and Magdalen’s snacks. Magdalena drank half Magdalena’s soda right then, and half Magdalena’s soda later when Magdalena had talked to Magdalena’s friend on Magdalena’s new phone that Magdalena bought with Magdalena’s Christmas bonus.

      It’s going to stand out, and be noticeable as an attempt not to respect somebody’s pronouns.

      1. Lavender*

        Yes, exactly. He could maybe get away with it for awhile if he didn’t work closely with the coworker in question and therefore didn’t need to talk about them in the third person very often–but even in that case, work responsibilities change, new people get hired, and current coworkers could come out as trans or nonbinary. It’ll come to light eventually.

      2. Snell*

        Lighthearted fun fact tangent about that “penguin in the desert” simile: penguins do live in the desert! Antarctica /is/ a desert.

        Agree that the people who (even with all the best intentions) propose no pronoun use whatsoever haven’t thought it through to the end result, which is a grab bag of awkward, blatant, and /still/ othering.

    6. Dubious*

      Pronouns are deeply, inextricably woven into the English language. A person can’t just decide to not use them and be done with it—either they slip up without realizing it (likely very frequently!), or they sound and feel weird and unhinged when they use the person’s name all the time, or can’t communicate easily because they’re doing mental gymnastics trying to phrase things in a way where they don’t need to use pronouns. Likely both.

      Some languages function just fine without frequent use of pronouns, but English isn’t one of them.

    7. Merry*

      No. I’m tired of watching people having to settle others’ discomforts. If the employee refuses to do something he says is against his religious beliefs, well, there’s the door. That’s it.

  6. learnedthehardway*

    While normally I would say the person is borrowing trouble, it makes sense from a DEI perspective for the manager to know the company’s policies and to anticipate if there could be an issue.

    I don’t see why the worker can’t just always use the chosen names of people he is addressing, if pronouns are too much for him.

    1. Starscourge Savvy*

      I am trying not to go overboard posting this explanation, but: Refusing to use pronouns for someone is just as transphobic as purposely using the wrong ones. It sends the same, hostile, message–I don’t respect you enough to call you what you want to be called.

      1. MEH Squared*

        I completely agree. It’s trying to rules-lawyer around respecting trans people and their right to be called by their correct pronouns.

        I am someone who doesn’t like pronouns so for me, yes, call me by my name. That is how you respect ME. For those who have pronouns, you use them. Period.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Damn, rules lawyering around respecting trans people is a great way of explaining this. Thanks MEH Squared.

        2. Eater of Cupcakes*

          I don’t think I quite understand. Are you saying that using pronouns at all is something you want people to avoid? Or to put it differently, would you need people to avoid sentences like “MEH Squared said they’d be here soon, but they’re a bit late, so we’ll have to wait for them until they arrive,” and instead say “MEH Squared said MEH Squared’d be here soon, but MEH Squared is a bit late, so we’ll have to wait for MEH Squared?” (I’m using “they” because I don’t know your gender.)

          Could you maybe give us an example of a sentence with acceptable phrasing and one with unacceptable phrasing?

          1. Theo*

            In cases where people prefer not to have pronouns used, it would work to say: “MEH Squared will be here soon but is a bit late — let’s wait by the benches for now.” There’s no need for a one to one replacement; instead, simply use constructions that lend themselves better to fewer pronouns. Many folks who don’t use pronouns DO have an emergency pronoun, so to speak, that can be deployed in genuinely confusing sentences, or if there’s no emergency pronoun, repeating the name does work.

            Folks who don’t use pronouns are aware it doesn’t sound that fluid in English. It’s just the best and least painful option in some cases.

            Notice, please, that this comment was constructed without personal pronouns :D Except “it”, but as “it” isn’t being used as a personal pronoun here, no need to avoid.

      2. Appletini*

        I’m sorry you’ve had to post it so many times but I’ve appreciated every time I’ve seen this explanation in this discussion. It’s the truth.

    2. Antilles*

      I don’t see why the worker can’t just always use the chosen names of people he is addressing, if pronouns are too much for him.
      OP leads off with saying that he’s very forthright about his opinion and seemingly knows plenty about his takes – even though it’s not even a real situation on the table. Doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who would be willing or able to “just always use the chosen names of people”.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Right. As someone writes about, WILL he call the employee by their CHOSEN name or their deadname?

    3. soggy bottom*

      My grandfather always thought it was polite to call black people ‘colored’ instead of the usual racist filth. The issue is bigotry, by any name or pronoun.
      Targets of bigotry remain targets, even when the bigot thinks they are being polite.

  7. Millie's Mom*

    Yeah, Alison is right, of course, but also, he can’t claim religion over THIS when his religion should also preclude working with/talking to any coworkers who take God’s name in vain, or who cheat on their spouses, or who break the Sabbath, or don’t honor their parents…..you don’t get to pick and choose stuff like that so you can just do what you want.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Legally, he can indeed pick and choose; his specific exercise of religion is up to him. It doesn’t matter in this case because the accommodation he wants isn’t legal — but there’s no “you have to do all of it or none of it” in the law.

      1. Millie's Mom*

        Yes, I’m sorry, I realize that legally there’s not an “all or none” clause, but as a person who identifies as a Christian, it’s a pet peeve of mine when others who identify as the same do this! It’s one of the many reasons many people are turned off or even hostile toward religion, and it just pushes my buttons! :-) People can be just the worst, and for no reason at all! (I’ve had a rough day, can you tell?!)

        1. Cyndi*

          I am 1) a minimally observant Jew 2) gay, and err on the wary side with vocal Christians until I get a better idea of them. From that context I can tell you I find an “all or nothing” attitude towards religion much more offputting than the opposite.

          Offhand, I don’t believe it’s possible NOT to pick and choose your religious beliefs and practice. Maybe you just roll along with the bits you were brought up with as a kid, or maybe you choose “none at all, thanks.” Or maybe you’re a bigot, like the guy in the letter, and you pick and choose all the parts that will enable your bigotry. I think religion is an inherently messy and self-contradictory thing, and everyone is looking at it from a different angle, and seeing the picture that serves them.

          1. Lydia*

            I think what Millie’s Mom is trying to say is that if you’re picking and choosing what you want to follow, why is this particular part so important for you (you, in general)? There are LOADS of things in the Bible that most Christians have moved on from, but the less kind Christians seem to have planted their flag on this hill and make a big point about it being because of the requirements of their religion. Okay, but why is this part so important they have to follow it to the detriment of those around them?

            1. Worldwalker*

              When I run into someone (and they’re distressingly common around here) who insists that they “have to” be bigoted because it says so in the Bible, I ask them if they keep Kosher.

              I’ve never found one who did.

              So bigotry is mandatory, but bacon-wrapped scallops are just fine. Right.

              1. Emmy Noether*

                It is interesting to observe that a lot of people seem to pick-and-choose exactly those aspects of religion that align with what they want to do anyway. There are those that seem to pick (and often exaggerate/extrapolate) the bigotry, and ignore the teachings on tolerance. There are also the reverse (one notices them less, by definition).

                I do think pretty much everyone religious picks and chooses – religion is so complex and often self-contradictory. It absolutely is, then, a mark of character which parts a person picks.

          2. ecnaseener*

            Yes, 100%. It feels like a nice “gotcha” to say “oh you’re only religious about homophobia?” but it’s basically the same logic as “oh do you really need rosh hashanah off? I didn’t think you were observant, you don’t even keep kosher.” Annoying and insulting in any context, and especially has no place in conversations about whether an accommodation should be granted.

            1. Worldwalker*

              It’s not quite the same.

              It’s a case of the bigot claiming that it’s not their choice to be a bigot, but it’s mandated by the religious rules they must follow … but then they choose not to follow textually adjacent rules which the would find to be a personal inconvenience. They’re picking rules to conform to their behavior, rather than adopting behavior to conform to the rules.

              1. ecnaseener*

                My point, and Cyndi’s point, is that in isolation there’s nothing wrong with choosing to engage with some elements of your religion differently than others, and some not at all.

                The problem with this man’s behavior is bigotry. That would be the problem no matter how many or few other religion-based rules he followed. The problem is very much not that he doesn’t follow every traditional Christian rule. (There’s certainly hypocrisy in ignoring all the teachings about kindness and tolerance! But not in ignoring the Sabbath or etc.)

                1. BethDH*

                  This is a really good way to put something that has bothered me about that argument for a long time. The problem is the bigotry, not the personal engagement with religion or the originalism of their beliefs. It feels like fighting fire with fire but arguing with someone religious about the right way to do their religion is not a moral or effective way to win.

                2. Worldwalker*

                  I can see the point here. After all, when one is considering fighting fire with fire, it’s good to remember that firefighters use water.

                  But it still seems off to me. “I have this book of rules” — the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament — “and my book of rules says I must do this thing” is quite a bit different from “I have this book of rules, and I follow some of them, but not others.” If you can choose not to follow the rules prohibiting eating pork, then you can choose not to follow the rules (you interpret as) requiring bigotry; you just choose to eat pork and be a bigot.

      2. soggy bottom*

        All religion is choice. We need to make sure bigots face consequences for their choices, from the highest court down to the most banal work interaction. No more free passes.

        1. Empress Ki*

          Not sure religion is always a choice. If you have been brainwashed from a very young age into the belief that you’ll go to hell if you don’t live a certain way, it can really mess you up psychologically.

          1. laser99*

            You make an important point. Technically, yes, religious beliefs are a “choice”, but they are a choice in the same way that, say, you are free to drive on the sidewalk or call your sister-in-law a skank or whatever, but the consequences of doing so are so dire it is essentially impossible.

            1. laser99*

              What I mean is that a person who is brainwashed to a certain point loses the ability to think rationally.

    2. Rainbow*

      You kind of can though; holy book/scripture interpretation is a complex thing, and even if it weren’t you’re allowed to base your personal spirituality on whatever actually speaks to you. Of course, in this guy’s case, “how to be an ass” seems to be what speaks to him.

    3. Bibliothecarial*

      You definitely can claim religion – there are as many interpretations of Scripture as there are Christians :) (I will spare everyone the lecture on systematic theology). What he is missing is that his religion is just that – his. If he doesn’t want to be lgbtqia+, that is his prerogative, but his beliefs don’t extend to other people’s choices. He needs to be respectful of his colleagues.

    4. Letter Writer*

      LW here, he also has expressed concern with coworkers using the Lord’s name in vain, which we have talked to others about. He’s told management that he worries his coworkers will go to hell because of that, but to my knowledge has never said that directly to anyone.

      Same for this situation, this belief was communicated to managers but to my knowledge has not been expressed to anyone he works with. And we do have LGBTQ+ people at our organization, including nonbinary people who use they/them pronouns, just not anyone he is directly working with on a consistent basis.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Oh wow. I’m not sure about the legality of telling management that he’s worried about his coworkers going to hell, but I think his manager should shut this shit down because it’s just so wildly inappropriate. I don’t think he needs to say this to his coworkers–I would bet they pick up on his feelings quite clearly.

      2. Starscourge Savvy*

        I wouldn’t just assume he doesn’t work with anyone who isn’t cisgender–many people don’t come out at work, especially not across teams they don’t work with directly on a regular basis. On top of that, make sure not to assume that just because you haven’t heard about him making comments to others that he never has. We’ve heard from managers on this site before who were positive no one had cause to complain or reason to fear retaliation, and we’ve told them as well–there is no way for you to know that 100%.

        That being said, please do everything you can to shut this down. This is wildly inappropriate behavior at work, and I can almost guarantee he is already making his disdain for coworkers who don’t live up to his sense of “morality” apparent.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          This, and also the environment encourages people to stay closeted. I am one such person, and even at a job where I feel supported, I’ve had so much trauma at previous jobs that I am not taking that risk.

      3. soggy bottom*

        So you’re policing non-bigots to protect an aggressive bigot’s choice of hostile belief system? Wow.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Well if he’s that worried about his coworkers going to hell, he should go to his closet and pray.

        1. Dancing Otter*

          And reflect on “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.” Not to forget “Whatsoever you do unto the least of these..”
          And don’t these people ever even think what they’re really saying when they ask G-d to forgive them as they forgive others?
          I just do not understand using Christianity as an excuse for bigotry. In my copy of the gospels, He made his opinion pretty clear on the subject of self-righteousness. Maybe they have an anbridged edition without all the uncomfortable bits?

      5. Twix*

        Speaking as an atheist, I don’t think asking other employees to not use certain terminology around this person if it makes him uncomfortable is necessarily unreasonable. However, it sounds like it needs to be made clear to him that he can worry about his co-workers going to hell all he wants, but you cannot, should not, and will not use the power structure of your company to compel his co-workers to act in accordance with his beliefs.

        Speaking as a cis man with a trans partner who has had to listen to coworkers denigrate trans people on multiple occasions because they thought if no trans people were around they were in the clear, please don’t assume that these kinds of views will only be harmful if he works directly with a trans person. I don’t discuss my personal life much at work, but that fact that my partner is trans isn’t a secret. If a coworker happened to learn that and insisted on misgendering him from then on, it would most definitely be a capital ‘P’ Problem.

      6. Dubious*

        If I’m understanding your comment correctly, then it would be very odd to me to have my manager tell me I couldn’t say things like “oh my god” or “goddamn” “by god.” Merely hearing someone else use those phrases is not the same as using the Lord’s name in vain yourself, and telling others they can’t say those things is basically requiring them else to follow a religious practice they don’t believe in.

        1. Blythe*

          I would find it odd for someone to tell me I COULDN’T say that, but I would really appreciate if my boss told me if I were saying something that made someone else uncomfortable. “Hey, just so you know, Colleague feels really uncomfortable when they hear people use ‘God’ being used casually or colloquially.” Then I can make the decision about how I want to change my language or not.

          This has nothing to do with legal requirements or workplace policies. Just… human interaction.

        2. Burger Bob*

          There was a letter here once from someone asking about a coworker who used to use “Jesus Christ” as a swear at the office and whether that was acceptable. The general opinion seemed to be that maybe it’s best to not use religious swears at work, regardless of whether you yourself hold those things sacred or not. So I actually, as long as we were specifically talking about language at work, I wouldn’t necessarily find it odd to be told not to say those things, or to avoid them in front of clients, or whatever.

      7. Irish Teacher*

        I just have to note here that I have met some people who interpret the prohibition on using the Lord’s name in vain to be a prohibition on just what he is doing – using God to justify one’s own opinions or to justify treating people poorly. Now, I’m sure that’s not how he is interpreting it and it allows for multiple interpretations (and honestly, while I’d like to believe that one, I’m not entirely convinced by it), but it does amuse me a little that he is talking about people going to hell for breaking it when some Christians would argue that he is.

  8. Meep*

    *sigh* I am tired of this nonsense when you consider that most common-known (re: conservative) religions come from Middle Eastern origin which does not have gendered pronouns. Just use they/them like Jesus did.

    1. metadata minion*

      Hebrew definitely has gendered pronouns, even more than English does (second-person pronouns are gendered); does Arabic not? There’s some amazing work going on to make Jewish liturgy more inclusive of nonbinary identities, but it’s a slog given how intensely gendered the language is.

      1. metadata minion*

        And if I’m remembering correctly, Jesus would have spoken mostly Aramaic, which is very closely related to Hebrew and definitely also has gendered pronouns.

      2. Random Dice*

        Jesus spoke Aramaic. I have no idea about pronouns in Aramaic, but can confirm gendered pronouns (and verbs!) in Hebrew.

        Hoo ohev – he loves
        Hee ohevet – she loves

      1. Allie*

        Yes! Arabic uses gendered pronouns and verb forms/conjugations for second person as well as third (as well as actually having a rarely-used dual in addition to singular and plural, which is to this grammar nerd absolutely awesome). It also uses gendered pronouns for the object of a verb that actually get appended to the verb itself, so you can actually say something like “I love you” all in one word.

        Arabic is an awesome language that lets you generate literally hundreds of different words/forms from a single three-letter root, letting one verb have up to ten different “measures” which change its meaning following a predictable pattern, which is really neat. Sorry if this is OT — I just love cool language stuff to geek out over. Ancient Greek has an extra voice called medio-passive and an extra past tense called the aorist. English is completely chaotic by comparison.

        1. Worldwalker*

          English is a creole, with all the weirdness that entails. Or, as H. Beam Piper put it, English is the result of Norman men-at-arms trying to get dates with Saxon barmaids, and no more legitimate than any other result.

          Arabic is awesome that way! It probably wouldn’t surprise you if I told you my favorite alphabet is Hangul, either.

          1. TeaCoziesRUs*

            Two of my favorite comments, which I have screenshots of and still chuckle at frequently come from an AAM post around 21 Dec 22:

            “The problem with defending the
            purity of the English language is
            that English is about as pure as a
            cribhouse whore. We don’t just
            borrow words; on occasion, English
            has pursued other languages down
            alleyways to beat them unconscious
            and rifle their pockets for new
            -James D. Nicoll

            – and –

            “English is what happens when Vikings learn Latin and use it to swear at Germans.” The commenter Festively Dressed Earl

          2. Emmy Noether*

            I knew German and French before I learned English, and I sometimes joke that I got the latter for free in a 3-for-2 deal, because so much of it is mashing the first two together. I did pick it up really, really fast.

            Part of what I like about English is that it is historically a pragmatic, make-it-work sort of language (because it’s a creole, as you say). And the vocabulary is very rich. But the grammar and the pronunciation and spelling, they are a real mess.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I’ve read speculation that early English developed as a trade pidgin before the Norman Conquest, specifically for the cross-channel wool and wine trade. “You sell fleece? I have wine. Want wool.” and “Yes. I have wool. How much wine for wool?”

              Between that possible origin, the Normans (who were Norse), the Danelaw, the Vikings of Jarvik, the original Celts, the Angles and Saxons and Jutes, the Romans, and a bunch of other random contributors to the language, not to mention that we’re trying to jam a language with 40+ phonemes into an alphabet with 26 letters which was what the Romans hacked around from the Greeks who hacked it around from the Phoenician traders, it’s no wonder there are five ways to spell something that sounds the same and five more ways to pronounce something that’s spelled the same, and multiple words that mean the same thing.

              My fascination with linguistics started when I was about 10 and I read Ivanhoe for the first time — specifically the scene with Gurth and Wamba, and Wamba is talking about how the Saxon pigs will become Normans, because they’re swine when they’re alive and pork when they’re served on a Norman lord’s dinner table. (nobody told me I was supposed to hate Ivanhoe, and it had knights and battles and Robin Hood, what was not to love?)

          3. Allie*

            Oooh, yeah, Hangul is really cool. My teen daughter and I are trying to learn Korean because our family studies Taekwondo and she loves K-pop. It’s quickly becoming apparent that language learning ability decayed significantly for me in my 40s, lol. I picked up languages almost effortlessly in my 20s, but she is kicking my behind easily.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I’m confused as to where you’re getting the idea that Jesus used they/them pronouns?

    3. HannahS*

      Yeah, this is completely wrong. Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek all have gendered pronouns.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      As someone who tried to learn some basic Hebrew, I can assure you that Hebrew does have gendered pronouns and gendered basically everything else (for example, the Hebrew word for “students” is different depending on whether those students are male or female). It had me ripping my hair out.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Granted, I am no polyglot but the handful of non-English languages with which I do have some acquaintance are all more gendered than English.

      1. Avery*

        There are some languages where gendered pronouns aren’t a thing. I know Finnish is that way. And on the other hand, there are languages where the grammatical “gender” doesn’t fit, well, our usual conception of “gender”, or where pronoun use varies less based on gender and more based on things like formality.
        But as far as I’m aware–and I did go to Hebrew school (mumble) years ago–Hebrew isn’t like that. It’s pretty gendered, and in the traditional male/female gender sense.

        1. I take tea*

          Finnish doesn’t have gendered pronouns, that is true. Somehow it doesn’t make every person gender neutral or wipe out the popularition because of confusion. Strange, isn’t it? /s

          1. allathian*

            Indeed. That said, because my working language is Finnish, the correct pronoun issue simply doesn’t come up. I don’t actually know the gender identities of my coworkers with any certainty. I make more or less subconscious assumptions based on their appearance and name, I guess most people do that to some extent.

            We don’t use gendered titles or honorifics except in the armed forces and in politics, and it makes life a lot easier in many ways. Certainly the risk of unintentionally misgendering someone is smaller than it would be if my main working language was one with gendered pronouns.

        2. Worldwalker*

          The only language I know at all well other than English is Spanish … I’ve never quite understood why the gender of a pencil and a pen matter. Except I suppose that’s how you get those little golf pencils.

          In general, languages that develop in isolation (some of the ones spoken in remote mountain villages in the Caucasus being an extreme example) develop much more elaborate linguistic structures than those that encounter other languages, are learned by non-native speakers, etc. For example, formal Latin is stupidly complex, with a tangle of verb conjugations and noun declensions and innumerable forms of everything. But the language Cicero wrote in is not the language some random guy on the street spoke. the modern Romance languages are essentially bad provincial Latin — and bad vulgar Latin, not formal Latin, at that.

          We can thank religions for preserving at least fossilized forms of languages no longer spoken. Latin, Sanskrit, Church Slavonic, even Arabic, because the Arabic of the Koran is not the language spoken across the Arab world anymore. And that preservation keeps the rough edges from being worn smooth as happens with daily-use languages.

    6. Chirpy*

      I think maybe where you’re getting confused is that Biblical Hebrew makes a point of using both masculine and feminine words/ verb forms when describing God, even if it wouldn’t be the normal usage. So one could argue the best current translation to English might be to use They as God’s pronoun, but Hebrew does have pronouns.

    7. noname12345678*

      @Meep: What? Yeah…NAH. I speak Hebrew pretty fluently and a small amount of Arabic. My son studied Aramaic in high school. In a week, 18 million of us are going to be reading the Hagada in Aramaic. All 3 languages use gendered pronouns. All 3 languages also use declension (like reflexive nouns, like “binti” or “my daughter” in Arabic). In Hebrew, it’s impossible to use first, second, or third person singular in the present tense without using gender. For future and past, it’s impossible to use second or third person singular without using gender. It is very, very difficult to speak in Hebrew without using gendered pronouns. I’ve tried it–it sounds really weird. You have to restrict to only using the first person future or past tenses or you have to use “we” for everything in the present tense.

  9. El l*

    “Sir, it’s legally obligated that you and we use the correct pronouns. If you don’t try to do that, we – your employer – could be opening ourselves up for a discrimination charge. And no, we can’t get out of it by citing your religion.

    “But let’s not go there. Our perspective is that by using the right pronouns, you’re respecting your colleagues. If you feel that’s not something you can do and be ethical, then it’s better for both this organization and for you that we part ways. Those are the ramifications here. Are you fine with that?”

    (You’ll want to check higher up in your organization for backing before you say this)

  10. Pucci*

    By this guy’s logic, would a transgender person need to disclose that to him so that he wouldn’t go against his religion? This guy is a jerk

    1. Julia*

      In theory, yes. Anyone he would like anyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella to let him know so he can act accordingly.

      1. Worldwalker*

        And anyone with “one drop of blood” I presume, so he can discriminate there, too. Segregation supporters used religious arguments.

    2. ferrina*

      Exactly! And it would need to apply to everyone around him- anyone who he might want to talk about in third-person. And what if he saw a baby who was wearing yellow instead of blue or pink, or if (gasp) a male baby was wearing pink or a female baby was wearing blue? How would he follow his mandate to use the pronoun that corresponds with the individual’s genetalia at birth?

      He should just simplify things and cut out third-person pronouns from his own vocabulary. No need to worry about it if he never uses any third-person pronouns for anyone.

      1. Web Crawler*

        I like that idea. In fact, to simplify things further, I think he should just stop talking about people in general.

    3. Allie*

      I suspect HR would not approve my (if I worked there) offer to drop trousers so he can confirm my external genitalia conform to his expectation of what a she/her should look like? And what about intersex genetic conditions like XXY? Does he claim a man is someone with a Y chromosome, does it go based on percentage of usual gender-conforming external sex traits, or would someone who is male-presenting but has no corresponding sperm-producing machinery count as a male in his mind? And if not, will he be requiring sperm counts and/or egg reserve studies for everyone? I’m enough of a jerk that I might try just out-rules-lawyering him by requiring him to define exactly the parameters of his “religious” accommodation needs. Although HR would probably not approve.

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        This is the way. Gender and sex are already cloudy on a biological level before you even get to the societal constructs. It would be interesting to ask this guy, in all seriousness, how he plans to determine which pronouns to use on ANYONE (not just those introduced to him as they/them). Watch him stammer and blush.

  11. Your Social Work Friend*

    The only way to accommodate it I can think of is for him to only refer to people by their names. But honestly if he’s threatening to quit over this would it really be a loss? There’s a big difference (in my mind) between providing accommodations to written religious law–such as food you can eat, people you can have physical contact with, etc–versus cultural religious doctrine like having stances about pronoun usage. The first is sensible and makes people feel welcomed, included, and accepted. My religion has laws against infidelity, that doesn’t mean I can tell my employer I won’t work with anyone who’s committed it or that I will be outright hostile to them.

  12. Queer Person on the Internet*

    I gotta say I just love the term “umbrella of sin”, I’m going to start using that liberally.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        And “Under the Umbrella of Sin”. could be the title of a fantasy novel about a corrupt church.

      2. Texan In Exile*

        Opening bands Near Occasion of Sin, Leaving Enough Room for the Holy Spirit, and The Baltimore Catechisms. (Although honestly, these bands would probably not be playing at the same festival as that guy’s band.)

      3. Phony Genius*

        I was thinking it might be a better song title. In the same vein as those suggestive 1970’s songs like “Afternoon Delight.”

        1. Reed Weird*

          Yeah, it sounds like a Ghost song! (Swedish metal band that styles itself as a Satanic group with the lead singer dressing as a Satanic pope, but honestly it’s a running joke in the fandom that it’s just the theatre goth child of Bon Jovi and ABBA) Fits right in with “Spillways of the Soul” and “Square Hammer”.

  13. Leo*

    Thank you for this response, Alison. Can you speak to the issue of the “compelled speech” doctrine? The New York Times summarized it this way recently: “Under what is known as the compelled speech doctrine, the First Amendment’s free speech protections extend beyond generally keeping the government from suppressing people from saying what they want: It also generally bars the government from compelling people to express things they do not want to say.”

    Apparently, this is the doctrine that the Supreme Court will likely rely on to rule in favor of the website designer who doesn’t want to make wedding websites for same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs. Interestingly, the constitutional question at issue here isn’t actually about religious liberty specifically, just about speech in general.

    My understanding is that, if legal action were taken by an employee who is opposed to using they/them pronouns, for instance, that it could be taken on this basis rather than on the grounds of religious liberty (especially given what you’ve shared about how religious liberty functions in work settings). Is this a stronger argument, or are employers allowed to compel speech and only the government is not allowed to do so?

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Right, think of it this way, Leo: the government usually threatens imprisonment for violating requirements (laws), but an employer requires it only as part of their mutual agreement to do A, B, and C for $X. If either party doesn’t like the conditions, they’re free to end that relationship.

        So the employer wouldn’t be forcing speech, they’d be requiring certain speech as a condition of continued employment.

        Alison’s race analogy was quite helpful, IMO. When people try to disguise bigotry as a “religious accommodation”, I ask what if, theoretically, a person claimed their religion required they refer to all [people of a certain race] as [racial slur]s? Or that they couldn’t be in the same room or use the same entrances, water fountains, or furniture as certain groups? It seems silly to have an “accommodation” for that, and it’s pretty much the same principle, that their religion allows them to discriminate, and because it’s a religious belief they cannot be asked not to practice it.

        1. Worldwalker*

          So totally this.

          People would not be allowed to demand that their employer provide separate “white” and “colored” drinking fountains (or doors!) because “their religion” requires it — not anymore. (go back pre-Civil Rights Act and they could and did) No more should the be able to demand that the employer accept them repeatedly insulting a co-worker (because that is, bottom line, what they want to do) for “religious” reasons.

      2. Twix*

        The compelled speech doctrine obviously doesn’t apply in this case, but would that argument have any traction for public sector employees, or for a private employer facing a hostile work environment suit on the basis of ignoring or endorsing misgendering?

    1. Onward*

      Common misunderstanding of the 1st Amendment — it applies to the government, not to private citizens/companies/etc. You can say/not say what you want and the government can’t stop you, but I can ask you to leave my house or my company.

      Exceptions to this include things like yelling fire in a crowded theater, speech intended to incite violence, etc. etc. etc.

      1. LemonDrops*

        Of course you can yell fire in a theater! LegalEagle on Youtube has a great video explaining how this “exception” started and why it’s not true.

          1. Starscourge Savvy*

            IMO this is pretty unnecessarily condescending comment.

            Aside from that, not only was the “fire in a crowded theatre” a metaphor, meant as an analogy, and not meant to be a ruling, but that case was overturned some 60 years ago.

            SHOULD you falsely yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre? No. Can you? Sure, unless you’re in one of few municipalities that have specific codes against it–the first amendment isn’t doing anything here. Let’s not misinform people.

      2. Total*

        Just to follow up on this one with more detail. The “fire in a crowded theater” comes from a Supreme Court decision in 1919, called Schenck v. United States that concerned the first amendment. First, it wasn’t just shouting “fire” it was “falsely” shouting “fire” — so that’s major difference. Second, it was a point of the decision — it was just used as an example, so the Supreme Court wasn’t saying that specific thing was illegal.

        More importantly, Schenck was superseded by a 1969 case called Brandenburg v. Ohio. Under Brandenburg, it is perfectly legal (with regards to the 1st Amendment) to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. It may be illegal to shout it falsely, but that’s on state by state basis. It is not a federal crime to do so.

    2. Willow*

      Employers compel speech all the time. Imagine a receptionist who refuses to speak to visitors or a retail clerk who refuses to upsell customers.

      1. Mid*

        Exactly! Employers can and do compel speech, all the time. Workplaces ban swearing, require you to use scripts on calls, say company slogans, etc. The First Amendment might be the most misused amendment we have.

        And further, if the First Amendment did apply here, then so would the part about religion, and therefore this dude’s argument about religion wouldn’t be applicable. Because he would be implementing his religion on others in his workplace.

    3. Dinwar*

      The employer isn’t saying the employee can’t say whatever he wants. They are merely saying that the employee can’t do so and still be employed at this business. That’s an application of Freedom of Association, one that’s been tested numerous times in recent years and generally been held to be perfectly okay, legally speaking. (Socially it’s considered acceptable as long as it’s people you’re disagreeing with that get fired, but that’s a whole other issue; as someone who leans Libertarian, unless it’s my team I don’t believe I have any right to an opinion on such employment decisions, but I can choose where to spend my money.)

      Secondly, the First Amendment isn’t carte blanch to violate employment law. By your logic–and to be clear, I am NOT accusing you of this, merely demonstrating the logical consequences of your logic in order to better illustrate the error–you couldn’t throw someone out of a movie theater for talking loudly on their cell phone. After all, they have the right to free speech. Or, you could sue a newspaper for refusing to run your op/ed (or sue a blog for removing a comment, or the like). Society at large and the legal system have both taken the pretty common-sense approach that while you have the right to say what you will, you do NOT have the right to do so with or on someone else’s property. In the case of employment, the company gets final say because you are working for them. They don’t own you, of course, but they certainly own the money they pay you with and have a right to refuse to give more if you do things that violate their rules.

    4. Nesprin*

      The company that employs OP and his religious colleague also has free speech rights- the company can decide to no longer employ the religious colleague based on his speech.

      If OP and his colleague worked directly for the government, there still wouldn’t be a good argument here for 1st amendment rights- religious colleague is discriminating against a protected class.

  14. becky s.*

    Interesting how some people use their religion to treat badly people they don’t like.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      It’s not new. Christians thrown to the lions; the Inquisitions in Europe (Spanish and otherwise); England burning Protestants/Catholics at the stake – these are easy examples. It’s almost like people have an inclination toward us/them thinking and the specific group that you are in or out of is secondary. David Berreby has written some good books on the topic.

    2. Forkeater*

      “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” – Anne Lamott

      1. JB*

        It always seemed super weird to me that every religion decided the “best” racial/ethnic/geographical group was their own.

        Nobody ever got a visit from an angel who said, “God has a chosen people, it ain’t you, and you won’t meet them for like seven hundred years.”

        Really convenient how that always seems to work out.

  15. Dinwar*

    There are numerous cases where a religious person accepts that someone is acting in violation of their beliefs, and therefore is condemned, but still respects that person’s right to do so. For example, not being married by a Catholic priest is a sin in Roman Catholicism, but I don’t know any Roman Catholic who would use that as an excuse to refuse to acknowledge that two people were married.

    What he’s saying is on par with the idea that because I use 2023 as the date, I therefore accept Christianity as the correct religion (an actual argument someone made to me; they were quickly informed by others of where the names of the days of the week come from). It is a corruption of theology, an attempt to use religion as a smoke-screen.

    (I’m assuming the guy’s Christian of some flavor, but there’s ample reason to assume that. The talk of Hell, for example.)

    For my part, I wish we could emulate the British envoy to India: “Sir, I respect your religious views. My religion, however, requires me to fire bigots, as paying them wages may constitute supporting such a viewpoint. I consider this your two-weeks notice and accept your resignation.” You’d be sued for religious discrimination, though.

    1. danmei kid*

      “but I don’t know any Roman Catholic who would use that as an excuse to refuse to acknowledge that two people were married.”

      Did you mean this to apply specifically to two heterosexual people? As I believe there are some marriages some RCs will not acknowledge.

      1. Dinwar*

        Yes. For example, the Roman Catholic Church refuses to acknowledge my heterosexual wedding, because a priestess officiated (became a bit of a concern with my family, as my apostate status came out around that time as well). Roman Catholics, including priests, acknowledge that my wife is my wife, however. (I focus on Roman Catholics because that’s what I grew up as and the Christian theology I’m most familiar with.)

        Most Roman Catholics that I know will also call a married gay man his partner’s husband, and a married lesbian her partner’s wife. They don’t acknowledge poly relationships, but then again poly is technically illegal so that’s hardly surprising.

        Most of the Christians I know accept that the legal issue is the one they need to abide by when dealing with people outside their religion. The law recognizes homosexual marriages and marriages that don’t have the blessings of any particular clergy and common law marriages (not so much now, but in the past) and a bunch of other non-traditional types of relationships, and most Christians I know accept that, even if they condemn it privately.

        1. metadata minion*

          “but then again poly is technically illegal so that’s hardly surprising.”

          Being legally married to multiple people is illegal, but there’s no law against having relationships with multiple people, or being married to them in the eyes of your community/religion but not the law.

          1. Dinwar*

            Yeah, I wasn’t terribly clear there. Mostly because I couldn’t think of the right word.

            Legally in the USA you can only be married to one person, and I know a number of people who refuse to acknowledge relationships including multiple partners on that basis. If a woman had multiple long-term committed partners, for example, they’d only consider one her husband. For my part, I find such a law contrary to the principle of Freedom of Association–legally a marriage contract is just that, a contract, and it’s not terribly difficult to write a contract including more than two parties.

              1. allathian*

                Polyandry, one woman married to more than one man.

                Many polyamorous relationships are more complex than that, involving more than two people of any gender and varying commitment levels to the relationship(s). It’s possible that the various permutations of polyamorous relationships might be too complex to legislate effectively. I suspect that many would be happy with officially recognized status as next-of-kin for polyamorous partners and some recognition for their status as carers of non-biological children living in the same household.

            1. Willow*

              It’s not just a contract between the spouses, though. There are all sorts of laws and rules that assume people have only one spouse. Taxes, inheritance, next of kin, divorce, benefits. It would require a massive amount of legal work to add in rules for multiple spouses. Some kind of civil partnership with few or none of the benefits of marriage would probably be the best you could do.

    2. Nina*

      “but I don’t know any Roman Catholic who would use that as an excuse to refuse to acknowledge that two people were married.”

      I’d like to put you in a time machine and send you to talk to my great-grandmother. Oh. My. God.

    3. Polar Vortex*

      Arguably, it really depends on what side of the Roman Catholic divide they’re on. There’s the liberal Roman Catholic side that is very focused on service and is extremely LGBTQ friendly including out and proud priests. And there’s the very loud – and growing – conservative side that reflects more and more how the evangelical church operates. So I did in fact have a family member who refused to attend a straight marriage because it wasn’t performed in a church.

      Sources: my extended family works in the catholic church on both sides of the divide – which makes family get togethers interesting as you can see. ((And in one side of my family, most of the elders are on the liberal side in some twisted divine irony, while the non-wedding attendant is a 20 yo.))

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      Right. I’m coming from it from a Protestant perspective, but it seems unreasonable to expect people to follow the laws of a God they don’t believe in. That doesn’t mean they are right, nor does it mean I am (and we can’t both be right), but I accept that the entirety of the law, according to my understanding is: Love God, love others. And that means treating them with respect, and letting God figure out the right balance between judgement and mercy.

    5. Random Dice*

      Jesus was born in 4 – 6 BC.

      So then believing in the Gregorian calendar is thus admission they don’t believe in Jesus?

      Head thwack.

    6. Happy*

      “I don’t know any Roman Catholic who would use that as an excuse to refuse to acknowledge that two people were married.”

      You may not, but I do.

  16. Zennish*

    I’m continually fascinated (and appalled) by the number of people who can’t get that their religious rights don’t include the right to be aggressively religious at other people.

    1. bamcheeks*

      “Don’t get” or “are aggressively and deliberately pursuing their bigoted agenda and hoping to become a cause celebre of the far right”?

      1. Zennish*

        Yeah, there’s a lot of that, but I also think there are simply people who can’t even begin to entertain the idea that other people being different isn’t somehow threatening or wrong. It may be willful obstinacy and ignorance, but I think it’s sometimes just obstinacy and ignorance, with any conscious agenda beyond that. It’s no less wrong whichever the case.

        1. soggy bottom*

          Their god tells them that we are threatening and wrong. That we want to turn their children gay and sleep with animals etc. They believe their (eternal)lives are at stake and god’s laws trump man’s laws. That’s how we end up with massacres.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      They’re capable of understanding it, but for some the point is mainly to feel superior. Perceived license to be aggressively religious at other people is one of the perks.

      –liberal atheist from Texas who has a lot of practice handling this mindset

    3. Lydia*

      I think that’s what we’re in the midst of right now. The flip side of freedom OF religion is freedom FROM religion. The most vocally religious amongst the population really think freedom of religion is the right to spray it all over the place.

      1. Dinwar*

        “The flip side of freedom OF religion is freedom FROM religion.”

        I disagree. I have no problem with folks having crosses on their desks, or the fish on their bumper, or even a Bible at their desk. Whatever; if you find comfort in it, have at it! Just let me have my pentacle and a book to read during lunch myself.

        We shouldn’t make religion something to hide. I’m in the closet; it’s dark, it’s cramped, and it’s absolutely no fun. I don’t wish that on anyone.

        The line is, you can express religion in ways that don’t interfere with others, but the moment your religion interferes with someone else’s ability to live their life, that’s a problem. (Things like taking days off or observing rituals at inconvenient times aren’t that–it’s no different from any of a million other reasons to take time off or take a break, as far as a company should be concerned.) You can have your cross on your desk, but you can’t vandalize my pentacle, or preach that I’m going to Hell (to which I’ll respond “I wish you’d spell her name right” anyway), or insist on only purchasing foods you know the Muslims and Jews in the office can’t eat, and the like.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Nobody is saying you have to be free from religion–the point is that those of us who don’t want to participate should be free not to have it thrown at us. I’m guessing you’re in the religion closet in part to stay free of others’ religions, no?

          1. Dinwar*

            “…the point is that those of us who don’t want to participate should be free not to have it thrown at us.”

            Define “have it thrown at us”.

            Lydia expressed this idea in nearly scatological terms, indicating a certain amount of hostility. This is not uncommon, in my experience–and folks who are hostile toward religion tend to use precisely the same types of arguments as bigots hostile towards homosexuals or interracial marriages or the like. They tend (and you can see this yourself with a large number of Richard Dawkins’ followers) to view any expression of religious belief as “throwing your religion in my face.”

            Maybe I misread what Lydia wrote. But it’s a common enough line of argument that it’s worth discussing, at least in my opinion.

            As for why I’m in the closet, it’s for a variety of reasons, most of which you are highly unlikely to guess. It’s a personal choice, and not entirely my own. For my part, I still appreciate the beauty of many Catholic artworks–the music, the architecture, the ritual, etc. I have a keen appreciation for the positive role the Church played in the past (it’s weird, but I’ve read more on monasticism and religious writings of the past since leaving the Church than I ever did when I was a member). I’ve zero problem with others displaying their religion. I object quite strongly to them threatening violence, but that’s in general, not specific to religious motivations.

            1. Twix*

              There are absolutely obnoxious and self-righteous anti-theists out there, but hostility toward people who try to impose their religious beliefs on others does not necessarily imply hostility toward religion in general. Given the context of this discussion, it seems like a stretch to conclude that by “freedom from religion” anyone means a complete absence of religious expression in public. What it generally refers to is the idea that you can believe whatever you want and you can express that belief however you want, so long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s rights. Once you start trying to compel me to say or act or think something because of your religious beliefs, my right to freedom from your beliefs trumps your right to express them.

              I also think it’s important to point out that much of the Richard Dawkins and co crowd’s reputation for being opposed to any display of religion is specifically in the context of government endorsement of religion, not private expression. Yes, things like Nativity displays on public property and opening government functions with a prayer may seem like fairly low-stakes issues, but an absolutist stance on separation of church and state is not the same thing as being intolerant of peoples’ personal beliefs and benign expression thereof.

              1. Dinwar*

                We obviously have had different experiences. I’ve quite literally seen people argue that religion is a disgusting secrete that should be kept shamefully private, and that any display of religious belief was a violation of their right to Freedom From Religion (in those words). That is, in fact, the only context in which I’ve seen that phrase used–to mean “I should be able to live my life without ever encountering any signs of religion.” (I forget if that’s an actual quote or a paraphrase, but it was definitely the way those people thought about this issue.) The rational atheists I know acknowledge that there’s disagreement here and that as members of a free society they’re going to encounter things they oppose. That’s not merely to be tolerated, but celebrated–it means the system works. I’ve never heard them use the phrase “Freedom From Religion”, though; they typically argue that disallowing people to force others to practice their religious beliefs is merely a self-evident aspect of the concept Freedom Of Religion.

                I’ll happily agree that my context may be highly skewed. As a paleontologist most of my encounters with this have been related to Young Earth Creationism, and over the past twenty years or so the only participants in that debate have been young and niave (me) or vitriolic hate-mongers so caught up in their own self-righteousness that they abandon all pretense of good scholarship (on both sides). So it’s likely that there are uses of this term that I’m unaware of.

                1. Twix*

                  I’m absolutely not disputing that those people exist or that that phrase is sometimes used that way; I’ve also seen it in person. (I’m an atheist myself and have met more than a few really obnoxious ones.) And I can definitely understand how professional exposure to YEC and anti-theists would color your view on that. I’ve seen it used far more in a broader political sense. I don’t know if you’re American, but if so I’m kind of surprised you haven’t – “Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion” is a pretty common progressive talking point in response to conservative Christians trying to legislate their beliefs.

    4. Double A*

      A lot of people seem to think that Freedom of Speech means Freedom to be Listened to and Never Criticized, too.

  17. spaceygrl*

    I genuinely don’t know the answer to this, so am kind of typing a train-of-thought… What if my religion believed all people should use “she” pronouns, regardless of gender? What if the OP started calling all employees “she” to make a point? (I don’t actually think anyone should do this, I’m just wondering if this is a point to bring up to the employee.) Technically, by calling him “he,” other people are using HIS preferred pronouns, too, right? Or is this too complicated a thought to get across?

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      For a fun historical diversion into religious beliefs leading to pronoun conflicts, I give you the Quakers.

      Early Quakers used the singular/familiar thee/thou for all people, not the more formal/plural “you” for those with higher social standing. It led to some conflict.

      It’s mostly died out as a practice, but I know a few living Quakers who used thee and thou within their families growing up, which always seemed charming to me.

      Link to an article about it in the next post, may get caught in moderation.

      1. House On The Rock*

        My parents are members of The Society of Friends and it’s definitely still a thing, especially in the more traditional silent worship meetings as well as in some publications and newsletters.

    2. Web Crawler*

      I can’t speak to the legal or workplace implications, which you’re probably asking about.

      But in my non-professional life, I’ve met folks who decided to call everyone “they” instead of remembering pronouns, and it bothers me as a trans person. I’m simply not comfortable being called “they”. When I ask the person to stop calling me “they”, they inevitably tell me that their comfort (in not having to memorize pronouns) is more important than mine (in not getting misgendered). It’s worth mentioning that I don’t care about perfection- after years, my mom still slips up, and I love her for trying. But saying that they’re not going to try at all, and that I shouldn’t feel bad because it’s not personal- that’s different.

      1. Silver Robin*


        It reads just like “Oh, it is fine, I’m an equal opportunity jerk”. Ummm that still makes you a jerk?

      2. Kel*

        Yeah no; if you’re in a situation where you can’t ask someone’s pronouns, sure use they, but the second THE SECOND someone tells you not to, you respect what that person is asking you. period.

    3. Web Crawler*

      A different tangent- I got my dad to use my so-called “preferred pronouns” by enlisting my siblings’ help in misgendering him. I do not recommend this in a workplace setting. But he got the point surprisingly quickly. I never heard “but why does it matter?” from him after that.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      Too much common sense. You’re assuming he would do better if he just understood, not that permission to be mean is part of the appeal.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Technically, by calling him “he,” other people are using HIS preferred pronouns, too, right?
      Correct, nothing technical about it. Everyone has pronouns, this guy’s problem is with using pronouns that he judges to be the “wrong” fit for a person based on their appearance or whatever.

      That’s why it would be illegal workplace discrimination to allow this guy to use the correct pronouns for those he assumes to be cisgender and deliberately use the wrong ones for those he knows or assumes to be trans.

    6. Dawn*

      Counterpoint, quick thought experiment, what if your religion required regular human sacrifice?

        1. Dawn*

          I do get that; this was fully intended to be a reductio ad absurdum to point out that these thought experiments only make any sort of sense when you apply them to low-stakes “beliefs” and that the answer becomes very clear when you extend it to the logical conclusion.

    7. FrivYeti*

      Aside from the general respect issue, my experience is that if someone is attempting to fall back on ‘religious rights’ to justify bad behaviour, they are not someone who believes in religious rights, they are someone who believes in *their* religious rights. They will be the sort of person who, when they meet members of other religions, will always try to convert them because “their religion says you should convert people so they don’t go to hell” and absolutely will not respect the other person’s right to have another religion.

  18. mg*

    If I read the question correctly, he has offered a compromise. He said he would just use the person’s name instead. I don’t see there being a problem if he just avoids using pronouns and uses names. His speech might come out a little awkwardly at times, but as long as he’s not actually using the wrong pronoun I’d think this should be acceptable.

    1. Retail Dalliance*

      He’d need to refer to every single person in the same way, so exclusively using names/last names…or else it would be discriminatory. The Kluge case is evidence that does not work.

    2. Starscourge Savvy*

      Nope. This is still obviously singling out the folks whose “lifestyle he disagrees with” (ick). As a trans person — we know what you’re doing when you do this.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      Unless he’s doing it for everybody he’s deliberately singling out one coworker and it will be obvious that the intent is disrespect. Frankly if he’s doing it for everybody it’s going to be awkward as hell and will still be obvious why he’s doing it.

      When your argument is “my religion requires me to treat my coworkers with disrespect” you are on very thin ground.

    4. Dinwar*

      It’s a bad compromise, first off–he’s basically waving a flag in every email or discussion saying “I’m doing this because I hate Those People”, which isn’t a great thing to subject people to. (Is there another reason to refuse to use pronouns?) It’s the “I’m not touching you” game, allowing him to broadcast his bigotry but get away with it because TECHNICALLY he didn’t cross the line. Which is worse than crossing the line, in my opinion, because of the dishonesty factor.

      Second, this sort of compromise is, as Alison’s statement demonstrates via example, notoriously difficult to actually do. He’ll mask the errors as slip-ups–“I’m sorry, my mistake, won’t happen again”–until he’s confident that people don’t care and then he’ll stop. Someone willing to leave a job over a hypothetical situation where they might have to use a different word is not someone who’s going to make a genuine effort to change their behavior.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Responding to “Is there another reason to refuse to use pronouns?” since I’m trans, bored, and stuck in an endless work meeting.

        In my experience, the reason people have refused to use my pronouns is mostly an “I don’t respect those people”, which is sometimes a hate thing but sometimes isn’t. Sometimes it’s just “I don’t listen to people whose experience doesn’t match mine”. In the best cases, it’s “I’ve never actually heard somebody say that it matters, but now that you’ve told me, I’ll change what I’m doing.” I love those people

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I think it’s really unfair to expect his colleagues to put up with being passive aggressively named over and over instead of him just using their damn pronouns. Obviously he’s also going to slip up at some point and say “he… whoops!” or “she….oopsie”. What do you do then after implying it’s okay as long as he uses the preferred name and, he’s ‘trying’.

    6. Turquoisecow*

      If he actually did not use pronouns to refer to anyone for an entire week or even a day, I’d be shocked. Pronouns are super common in English and not using them would be pretty difficult after years of speech. It would slow down most conversations and probably routine operations. I predict he’d mess up and use one within half an hour.

      1. Nina*

        I have actually studied English as a language, I’m good and fast with words, and it took me a solid year of practice to not slip up every other sentence when talking about an agender friend whose pronouns are ‘no pronouns, use my name’. It’s hard! I’m doing a lot better at it now but it’s hard to override decades of language programming even when you have good intentions and are trying not to hurt someone.

      2. Waiting on the bus*

        Absolutely. It’s possible to not use pronouns but it’s very hard and I doubt that people like that are willing to put in the work. Maybe he would be able to keep it up when talking about the trans coworker for a day or so since that’s when he would know he needed to be alert. But the first time he referenced another coworker I promise he would trip up immediately.

        That’s aside from the fact that not using any pronouns for anyone would already be a flag for transphobia itself in this situation. Why else would a person suddenly switch to not using any pronouns at all? That already screams that he doesn’t respect new trans coworker’s pronouns and now has to go to all that TROUBLE to not OFFEND anyone. /s

    7. Appletini*

      Imagine for a moment dealing with a coworker who spat out your name like a curse and pointedly refused to use your pronouns. Over and over and over again. Every single workday. Would you really feel good about working there day in and day out?

  19. Retail Dalliance*

    I went to high school with the teacher in that case (Kluge). I know his parents, I’ve been in his childhood house many times. I knew he was Christian, but didn’t realize he’d grow up to be so cruel. Following that case made my heart hurt deeply. One of our mutual friends who is trans agonized over it, followed the case very closely, hoped he would change his mind/heart/opinion/bigotry. He never did. I stuck with my trans friend. I have no communications with John Kluge.

    1. Polar Vortex*

      Ah that’s the hardest when you watch people who you know take steps that walk them away from you and yours. Hope you and your trans friend are doing okay despite everything.

  20. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    I’m surprised the usual flock of TERFs hasn’t arrived yet. Their network must be down.

    1. SereneScientist*

      I think Allison has been pretty proactive in moderating those comments, so hopefully there are fewer and fewer of those folks lurking around.

  21. Curious about pronouns*

    Does this law apply if a person’s chosen pronouns are “ze” or “zir”?

    What if the employee is willing to use “he” or “she” as requested but not the pronoun “they?” In essence acknowledging someone’s choice on a gender binary, but not a non-binary? Is that explicitly protected by law?

    Not trying to be facetious or argumentative, but generally curious about what is and is not explicitly protected by law.

      1. Lavender*

        It’s very hard to talk about another person without using pronouns at all, unless you’re only mentioning them briefly. “Alex said to leave the reports on Alex’s desk so Alex can go over them before Alex presents them at the meeting.” People can tell when you’re going out of your way to not use a person’s correct pronouns. Just use the correct ones.

        1. Mrs. Whatsit*

          Maybe it’s just my pattern of speaking, but I find it really easy to avoid pronouns for other people altogether (I use them for myself, obviously.) It’s part of why I’ve found it so inexplicable that hatemongers cling onto the burden of pronouns as a veil for their hate.

          If you can’t tell, even though I’m not a big pronoun user, I still believe it matters to use the correct ones. That being said…

          “Alex asked me to drop off the reports for a quick review before the meeting presentation”

          1. Lavender*

            If you naturally speak in a way that doesn’t use a lot of pronouns, then presumably you’re speaking that way about everybody and not just trans/nonbinary people–which of course is fine. Not everyone talks that way, though, and it’s obvious when a person is deliberately not using pronouns for certain people while freely using them for others.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            That would be a really uncommon pattern of speaking! For example, you did use one pronoun for other people in your post: “their”, and in a sentence where it would be quite awkward to avoid!

            Your example at the end: it’s often easy when it’s just one sentence. Gets much more awkward if there’s a second sentence and/or you need possessive pronouns somewhere. Plenty of examples in this comment section.

            “Alex asked me to drop off the reports for a quick review before the meeting presentation. Alex is sorry for not getting them to you earlier, but Alex’s computer crashed and Alex had to call IT”. Awkward.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        If you don’t like it, suck it up and treat people with respect anyway. Singling one person out by conspicuously using their name is bullshit.

        1. Lavender*

          Yeah, this isn’t really a case of “if you don’t like it, don’t participate.” You don’t have to use they/them pronouns *for yourself,* but you do need to respect other people’s choice to do so.

      3. Starscourge Savvy*

        No. This is still transphobic. As a trans person, we can tell what you’re doing, and what you mean by it.

    1. Lavender*

      Gender identity is a protected class, so yes, this person needs to respect ALL genders, not just men and women.

      1. Curious about pronouns*

        Gender identity is protected, yes, but does the law say what is included under gender? For instance, I cannot find any references anywhere that suggest under federal US law, nonbinary genders are actually protected, only gender identity in reference to male / female. It doesn’t look like it is decided, and I’m wondering if anyone knows what is the current law?

        1. Lavender*

          It’s still covered under Title VII. The law applies to all discrimination based on gender, not just male and female.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      If they treat one individual differently based on gender (e.g., not using the pronouns requested), then it’s discrimination. Doesn’t matter which pronouns they are.

    3. metadata minion*

      The initial question was about using they/them pronouns, so I assume yes, it is protected by law.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I suspect you’d only really start having issues if the pronouns a person were requesting were in and of themselves offensive. This isn’t pronouns but I’m reminded of an older letter about a woman who wanted all of her coworkers to call her boyfriend “master”. She eventually got fired still believing it was ok to get coworkers involved in one’s kink. Or similarly, the person from a while ago who didn’t want to use a name at all while they were choosing a new one.

      But while those cases do exist, they’re pretty rare and should be dealt with on a case by case basis.

      1. ScubaDuba*

        I would actually love if somebody with knowledge of the law could expand on this, because while I’m happy to use they/them, xie/xer or anything else, I would have major issues calling another human being “it” and that pronoun choice seems to be not unheard of. Also would be curious to know if being nonbinary myself would make a difference.

        1. Fushi*

          It wouldn’t. I wouldn’t get a pass for discriminating against women just because I am broadly in that category myself; having a gender outside the binary doesn’t mean you get to discriminate against others outside the binary because you don’t like their pronouns. Marginalization is not a get out of jail free card for bigotry.

        2. alex (they/them)*

          as someone who is also nonbinary, please just use the people’s pronouns. I know a lot of trans/nonbinary people have discomfort with referring to others using it/its specifically because transphobes will refer to trans people as “it”, but a lot of why some trans people choose to use it/its is to reclaim it, the same way people reclaim queer or dyke.

    5. clownfish*

      I don’t think it matters! If an employee won’t refer to their coworkers properly and with their respective pronouns , then it would fall under gender discrimination in the workplace.

      1. Kel*

        Just a heads up, preferred pronouns is a problematic phrasing also; it’s just someone’s pronouns. they aren’t preferred.

        1. theguvnah*

          Can i build on this though? I get that generally speaking and believe it to be true, absolutely.
          But I also know people who change their pronouns. Doesn’t that mean then it is their “preferred” pronoun on that particular day, and another day they would prefer a different pronoun? (I know this does not apply to all people but I know more than one person who is clear that their pronouns can change).

    6. Appletini*

      The term you want is ‘neopronouns’. And there are quite a few legal discussions and opinions concerning neopronouns if I were at my computer I’d post some links.

    7. Kel*

      Gender identity is protected by law; ze/zir would be protected if that was the pronoun that person used.

      I’m confused by your second question.

  22. FNR*

    The fact that this guy is already threatening to quit over a *purely hypothetical* future nonbinary coworker makes me a bit skeptical of his claim that he “doesn’t have a problem working with” LGBTQ+ individuals even if he *were* allowed to misgender them. The LW implies that there are other LGBTQ+ employees at their organization; I’d definitely keep an eye out for any indication that he’s treating those coworkers differently and opening the organization up to legal liability.

    1. MsM*

      OP says the company is “more and more outwardly supportive of DEI initiatives,” which makes me question how many nonbinary or trans employees they actually have that there isn’t any kind of official policy that OP’s aware of, or what if anything they’re doing to try and recruit them. You’d think someone would at least have stuck some pronouns in a signature already. (Or maybe that’s what prompted the coworker’s rant?)

      1. Letter Writer*

        LW here. My organization has a DEAI statement, employees are welcome to use pronouns in their email signatures, and we wear nametags that can include pronouns if we choose. All of this has only really started up within the last couple of years. We have nonbinary and trans employees, just not within my particular team.

        I wanted to know from an HR perspective because our HR team can be somewhat risk-averse and I wanted to make sure I understood what is and isn’t legal.

  23. BellyButton*

    I don’t like to generalize or stereotype, but I have never had to have a conversation explaining pronoun use to Millennials or Gen Zs. I truly can’t wait until they are running this world.

    A Gen-Xer

    1. Kit*

      As an older Millennial, Zoomers routinely give me so much hope for the future. The kids, as far as I can tell, are definitely alright.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      You need to get out to more rural areas then. I can assure you that this “confusion” cuts across all ages because it’s a choice to be cruel and not simple confusion.

      I live in the state where elementary school children started yelling “Build the Wall!” at their brown classmates during lunchtime a few years ago. It was…chilling.

      Another Gen-Xer

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Seconding this. Who is open to it and who is not is way more dependent on your social circle and its social and political leanings than age.

        A third Gen-Xer

      2. SereneScientist*

        That is incredibly chilling. It is *broadly* true that Gen Z are trending away from this kind prejudice and more of them identify as LGBTQ+, but they are as much a product of their social environment as those trends and the unfortunate truth is that if children are raised around hate, they will often (though not always) reproduce that hate unless there is an intervention.

    3. Polar Vortex*

      But sometimes you have the best aha moments with the elder generations. Had one where we were explaining preferred pronouns and names, and explained it like how some people always used nicknames and never their birth names. Dude had an “aha” moment because he was a Richard who went by Dick, and nobody ever called him Richard not even his mother.

      So some people come from a place of curiosity and learn. Always a happy moment.

      1. BellyButton*

        When explaining why it is important to have male, female, non-binary, trans-gender as choices on a form I explained it as “back in the day, there was white, black, other. No one wants to be an other.” They got it.

    4. Zennish*

      Another Gen-Xer. I really had higher hopes for us as a generation, given our general distrust of authority and labels during our college years. Now I see articles about how conservative Gen X has become, and I just want to dig my motorcycle jacket and Doc Martens out of the mothballs and go protest something.

      1. Elizabeth West*


        I’m really curious how Gen Z will be in their elder future, assuming they have one and I’m around to see it, the latter of which I doubt.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        People do tend to drift more conservative with age. I see it in my parents, who raised us with all sorts of ideals (feminist, anti-racist,…), and now sometimes they say things not at all aligned with those. Luckily, they’ve firmly anchored those ideals in their children, and we are not hesitant to push back and remind them.

      3. Some Dude*

        I think part of it is that some people get more conservative as they get older, for a variety of reasons. A big part of it is that our generation wasn’t actually that liberal – a small number of us were and we got all the limelight and we assumed that we were representative of our generation. Not to mention there was a ton of pushback against political correctness at the time from members of our generation, which reminds me a lot of anti-wokeness today.

        It is also wild to go back and watch counterculture movies from that time and realize how racist/sexist/homophobic they were. I watched the Big Lebowski recently and yikes. There was so much stuff that wouldn’t fly today, rightfully so.

        Regarding the current younger generations, it seems like many of them are more open and aware of the various isms than we were, but there is also a much stronger online culture of being in opposition to that – in 1994 you had to really look to find neo nazi groups to join, and now it is a few clicks away. Especially for young men and boys, there are many avenues trying to steer them into far-right groups and values than when we were young. We’ve been saying that the country will age out of bigotry for decades and it hasn’t happened yet.

  24. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I think this is one of those situations where someone is getting themselves riled up about hypotheticals, and this it’s not something worth addressing in this context other than to say that using the preferred pronouns of someone in the workplace is expected because this workplace is a civil place that respects everyone. If someone chooses to be disrespectful, it will be addressed accordingly. If the disrespect rises to the level of workplace harassment/hostile workplace due to gender identity, it will be addressed accordingly.

    When Mr. HyperReligious Snowflake is faced with an actual scenario, he can be addressed dependent on his behavior. If he throws a tantrum and creates a scenario in which his current colleagues, whether or not they have publicly identified themselves as any sort of gender-spicy, are feeling that he is creating an uncomfortable environment, he can be addressed dependent on his behavior.

    I don’t play games with people who have decided not to follow the rules.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I read the letter as the LW wanting to be prepared for if/when the situation actually occurs.

      1. ferrina*

        Yep, that’s how I read it. And how to set the stage- if the manager is actively supporting DEI initatives and says “well, we’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you can’t use a colleague’s correct pronouns, that will be the outcome.” That draws a clear line, and the employee can decide if they are willing to rethink their stance or move on. It also sends a clear message to other members of the team- this is a manager who sticks up for all people, not just people who happen to share their same demographics.

  25. Bopper*

    “No problem… just don’t use pronouns. Use the name they ask everyone to call them.”

    “Pat is going to be calling a meeting. Pat will send invitations and make sure to respond to Pat.”

    1. Emily*

      “Pat is going to call a meeting and send out invites. Make sure to RSVP.” (I think “to the invite/to Pat” is implicit, but you could add “to them.” Although it’s probably “on the invite” or “in Outlook.”)

      1. BubbleTea*

        “Them” is a gendered pronoun, for the purposes of this discussion (in the sense that it is used by people with particular gender identities that don’t align with the traditional gendered pronouns).

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      To be non-discriminatory, the person would have to never use third person singular pronouns for anyone. If the speaker says “I talked to Gollux, and she said Pat is going to be calling a meeting. Pat will send invitations and make sure to respond to Pat,” he’s treating Pat, who he believes to be trans, differently from Gollux, who he assumes is cis.

      Unhelpful idea: “If you won’t use trans people’s pronouns, you can use given names for everyone, and no singular pronouns. Remember that ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘you’ are pronouns.”

      1. Phony Genius*

        I once read an article by a nonbinary person who did not want to be referred to by any third-person pronouns at all. That writer asked that only their name be used. (First and second-person pronouns “you” and “I” were exceptions.) But that was the request of that writer only, and it is that writer’s choice. It does not apply to anybody else unless such a person makes the same request.

      2. allathian*

        I, you, we, me are all pronouns, but they aren’t gendered pronouns. Neither are they/them when they’re used to refer to to inanimate objects, or people whose gender is unspecified. But they’re gendered pronouns when they refer to someone who uses them as their pronouns.

    3. Dawn*

      For what it’s worth, due to the stigma created by Saturday Night Live, I’d generally advise using any name but Pat in your examples as it’s generally held to be an offensive reference by members of the trans/nonbinary community who are old enough to recognize it.

  26. Richard Hershberger*

    My somewhat less snarky response is to point out that the King James Bible uses the singular they many times. There is a coherent argument to be made that the uses in the KJV are different from what we are talking about here, but this leads to my more snarky response: if we are going to discuss pronoun usage, first establish that you know what a pronoun is. Yes, anyone who successfully passed junior high English should know this already, but recent discourse on the subject pretty conclusively establishes that many people cannot climb over this bar to save their lives, and yet are eager to share their thoughts on the matter.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Fair point. The way it lines up with the self-identified conservative Christian culture war talking point du jour is suggestive, but not conclusive.

    1. Donkey Hotey*

      As my friend says,
      “Roses are red / violets are blue.
      Singular they predates singular you.”

      The oldest use in English of singular they predates TH, it was spelled using a thorn. (The mark that looks like a flag at half mast.)

      All this to say, they wouldn’t care if you used a biblical reason to explain it to them.

  27. boxfish*

    I would love it if people could stop suggesting that ‘not using any pronouns for this person’ is a reasonable solution here. It’s not a solution. It’s transphobic.

    I can’t begin to tell you how draining it is to be misgendered all day every day at work, or have people be so uncomfortable with your existence that they dance around it or try and avoid referring to you at all.

    1. Polar Vortex*

      Honestly sometimes I hate people who use just names worse than the misgenderers. At least those people are owning their bigotry. The people who do cartwheels to avoid the pronouns are always doing it with a “I’m doing this because I am forced to but please understand I’m phasing this so you feel my immense dislike for you”.

    2. AGD*

      I watched a person in my life do this to each of THREE mutual non-binary friends for YEARS and I cringed the entire time. Then she got all self congratulatory like “You must never have noticed the clever thing I was doing!” In fact, I’d noticed years earlier, and was now entirely out of patience, so I ended up (gently, but firmly) giving her a piece of my mind. To her credit, she switched over to using singular they for each of those friends, which was much less noticeable because it was utterly normal – but I don’t think she ever forgave me for calling her on it. I’m sorry I didn’t speak up sooner, though, because it would have been better for me to stand up for our friends earlier.

      1. allathian*

        I wonder why your non-binary friends put up with that behavior for so long, they would’ve been perfectly justified in cutting off contact with this so-called “friend”.

  28. DEI Practitioner*

    I work in DEI Education in a fairly conservative area, and this is a question we’ve run up against quite a bit. This perspective/analogous situation has helped us navigate folks back out of it:

    From our perspective as an employer, we welcome and encourage employees to worship however and wherever they choose. We’ll never weigh in on how employees worship or how their faith communities organize themselves — but those same religious practices don’t carry over to the workplace. For example, a lot of more conservative faith communities don’t permit women into leadership roles — depending on the tradition, that might mean serving as ordained clergy, in lay leadership roles (think “parish council” or “elders”), or teaching Sunday School classes. But again, those norms don’t carry over to the workplace. We wouldn’t reassign someone to another team or department because their boss is a woman and their religious community doesn’t recognize women in leadership roles. Similarly, employees are free to decline church membership to LGBTQ+ folks, or make whatever decisions they need to make regarding their personal relationships with queer folks — but in the workplace, they’re required to recognize chosen names, pronouns, and families, whatever that looks like.

    1. Mid*

      An analogy I’ve found to be helpful:

      Many religions have fasting or prohibitions on foods. You can give up chocolate for Lent, and therefore not eat chocolate at work. But you can’t ban everyone at work from eating chocolate during Lent. And you can’t harass someone who is eating chocolate at work. Work can’t force you to eat chocolate during Lent, but you also don’t get to implement your rules onto anyone else.

      1. Tuesday*

        I don’t think that’s a helpful analogy though, because in this case his reasoning is likely that using the person’s pronouns would mean he is being forced to participate in and encourage the sin. It’s not just a matter of not approving.

        1. Mid*

          It’s more to illustrate the concept of “your rights stop when they impede on another person’s life.” I haven’t yet found a good one for people who refuse to respect someone’s identity, but this tends to help get the point across that your rights don’t mean you get to harm others. It isn’t perfect though.

          1. Jen (they/she pronouns please)*

            I’m not sure, but thinking about the chocolate…
            “If your coworker was fasting for Lent and so wasn’t eating meat, and you were to order some food, you’d be okay with getting them something vegetarian, and not insist they eat the meat meal because they normally do. Even if that means more work for you, or ordering from a different place you like less because the normal one doesn’t have vegetarian food.”
            Maybe something like that could work, even if it’s not about doing/accepting something against your religion, just a little inconvenience?

  29. Lavender*

    If this employee is making it known to everyone in the office that he wouldn’t respect a trans or nonbinary person’s pronouns if it comes to that, that’s a disciplinary issue that you’d need to deal with now. It’s unclear from the letter whether that’s what’s happening or if he brought it up in a private meeting, but if it’s the former, please don’t wait to address it with him. There may be someone in the office who’s trans or nonbinary but isn’t out at work yet.

    (I say this as a person who is nonbinary but not out at work. Hearing this kind of talk from a coworker would make me feel unsafe, even if they weren’t talking about me specifically.)

    1. Starscourge Savvy*

      I agree with this assessment! And I can only imagine if he was this forthright with OP about it, what he’s saying to his colleagues on the same level as him/below him.

      1. Lavender*

        Yeah, if he feels strongly enough about it to preemptively bring it up with his employer even though the issue hasn’t even come up in the office, I can’t imagine he’s being particularly subtle about his views in general.

        1. LMW*

          Right! How is this even coming up if nobody they work with goes by different pronouns? Was this conversation in response to some sort of diversity training? Or did he just start talking about his religion out of the blue?

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Have a coworker who literally takes a sharp left or right hook of a turn out of reality about once a conversation. He is exhausting.

            Sharp left or sharp right hook meaning that he suddenly spins into “just asking questions” (eye roll) about the latest super-right talking points, or spouting and babbling the latest easily disprovable conspiracy theory. This happens no matter what the original conversation was about, and typically, it was about work, which has to do with painting teapots, NOT about anything he goes off on (POC, LGBTIQ+, immigration, Covid, social issues, etc.)

            Did I mention that he is exhausting?

    2. ferrina*

      Yes!! Manager needs to clearly shut this down. I feel like it’s incumbent on managers/workplaces to be proactively inclusive rather than relying on “well, we’ll do the right thing if/when someone comes out to us”. The LGBT community has been persecuted for so long that it’s really reasonable to assume that coming out to someone isn’t safe unless proven otherwise, and it’s irresponsible for others to think “gosh, LGBT people should just tell me, I’m a good guy, I’m pretty sure I won’t be awful” (can you tell I’ve had this conversation a few times?).

      Inclusion is about promoting diversity and speaking with respect about people whether they are in the room or not. It makes us all responsible for changing our casual behaviors to welcome and support a diverse group of people. It’s not incumbent on marginalized communities to take a chance on trusting the majority; it’s about the majority actively earning trust after decades/centuries of marginalization. Shutting down disparaging speech and plans to discriminate against a hypothetical colleague are a necessary step. This is what inclusion is about- making the space safe no matter who may or may not be here at the moment.

      1. Lavender*

        Yes, exactly. This is not something you as an employer should wait to deal with unless/until it becomes a problem–you need to be proactive about it from the beginning. And if you’re fine with bigoted comments* as long as there aren’t any people around who might take offense, then you’re not as open-minded as you think you are.

        *I don’t mean to imply that OP is condoning bigotry or that they’re okay with their employee’s views–clearly they’re not! But it’s important not to inadvertently send that message to the employee, which could happen if they keep allowing him to make these comments.

    3. Letter Writer*

      LW here. It was a private meeting. I brought it up as a hypothetical situation because we do have trans and nonbinary employees throughout the larger organization and we do hire temporary employees on a regular basis. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before we hire someone who identifies as trans or nonbinary in our department.

      We were having a discussion within the context of our org’s DEAI initiatives and he shared his views with me at that time.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        How about this:

        “It’s obvious to me that your religion is very aggressive towards trans people. As a result, any trans employee we might hire probably hates and despises your religion and feels personally abused by your religion’s practices. We will nonetheless expect a trans person to be polite about and respectful towards your religion while at work. By the same token, we will expect you to be respectful of the trans person’s pronouns, dress, makeup, etc., and about trans people generally while you are at work. You will trade your respectful behavior for their respectful behavior. If a trans person is disrespectful towards your religion, they will go through our disciplinary process and eventually be fired if they can’t mend their behavior. If you are disrespectful of a trans person, you will go through our disciplinary process and eventually be fired if you can’t mend your behavior.”

        “We expect you to give respect in order to receive respect. If you choose to look for a new job, we will expect you to obey these rules as long as you are still in the building.”

        1. ecnaseener*

          I don’t love that idea. Telling him that a hypothetical future coworker hates his religion seems…very very unlikely to convince him to respect the future coworker when they come along.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            It’s also very likely that this guy would interpret “your religion” to mean Christianity rather than his specific interpretation of it and would take the comment to mean “trans people hate Christianity,” which would likely play into certain preconceptions.

      2. Boof*

        Hm. I’m still trying to understand why you brought it up at all; unless you’re doing this with everyone (which would be a bit unusual, though ok if so!) it’s because he’s somehow communicated he disapproves of LGBTQ, no? Which he really shouldn’t be bringing to the work place.
        I suppose asking people not to “use the lord’s name in vain” is ok depending on the level here (ie, policing “gosh” and “heck” and “jeez” might be a bit much even if those are probably derived from religious swears)

    4. Critical Rolls*

      Very much agree. I can’t imagine anyone in the LGBTQ+ community not wondering how this person would react to them if they came out, or talked about their loved one in the community. This guy has decided to advertise his bigotry. People will notice if he’s allowed to do that with no pushback under the lampshade of “hypothetical situations.”

  30. CommanderBanana*

    Just came here to say that you can stand under my LGBTQIA+ umbrella, -ella, -ella, ay, ay, ay ay ay.

    1. Starscourge Savvy*

      I’m going to be using “umbrella of sin” from now on, so thanks for that one OP.

  31. Caleb*

    Yeah, you really can’t let an employee be transphobic towards another employee just because they claim that being asked to respect someone else as a human being violates their religious beliefs. To put it another way, how would you feel if an employee said “My religion says that women need to be subservient to men, so I’m going to treat all female employees as if they’re beneath me, refuse to listen to anything a female employee tells me, and order our female CEO to make me coffee and schedule my meetings”?

    At that point, would you be thinking “Well, this is a religious belief, so I need to find an accommodation he’s comfortable with” or “Wow, this guy is so sexist I don’t know if he’s a good fit for our organization”?

  32. TootsNYC*

    If a woman divorces and changes her name, is he going to refuse to acknowledge that?

    There are lots and lots of things that will send you to hell. How is he going to treat those?

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      It would not be the least bit surprising is he himself were divorced. The rules for this sort of thing are quite flexible, even situational.

      1. There You Are*

        Divorced, has a tattoo, wears clothing made of mixed fibers, shaves his face, cuts his hair, eats pork, etc., etc., etc.

        1. Avocado Toast*

          Not to be pedantic, but the vast majority of Christians don’t hold to the laws of the Old Testament except for what’s reaffirmed in the New Testament. They believe that Jesus fulfilled the old law, so all of the things you listed are fine for Christians to do. I see this kind of thing all the time and it’s not a comeback that would actually work against Christians today.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            Isn’t that also an argument against anti-LGBTQ mindsets, though? The only biblical citation I’ve heard to back up that stance is from Leviticus. Where is that in the New Testament?

            1. Avocado Toast*

              There are a few places in the New Testament where it’s mentioned. When Jesus talks about marriage he specifies that it’s between one man and one woman, and the entire Bible holds to the fact that any “intimate relations” outside of marriage are sinful. So that’s one argument – it would fall under the same umbrella as premarital sex or adultery with anyone, regardless of gender.

              Paul also mentions same-sex intercourse in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy. There is some debate among progressive Christians about what the word he uses here really means, but it is mentioned in the New Testament.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            That is a tricky subject area, theologically speaking. In practice, conservatives are only to willing to cite Leviticus when it serves their immediate purpose. If called out on it, pointing out the parts of Leviticus they disregard, they will claim a distinction between moral law and ceremonial law: a doctrine invented within my lifetime to cover just this situation. Did I mention they claim to be conservative?

  33. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Reminds me a bit of the Forstater decision in the UK. I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the ruling is that she can believe whatever she wants, but she can’t behave however she wants. Transphobes seem to focus on the first bit – and call it a win – and totally ignore the second bit where it’s made clear that transphobes aren’t allowed to be jerks to other people.

  34. Sylvia*

    We already use nongendered pronouns in speech when we don’t know the gender of an anonymous person, as in “Someone broke into my house yesterday, I hope the police catch them” or “Someone left their jacket on the bench, I wonder if they will come back for it?”

    I’m assuming the employee would feel fine saying those statements, but he suddenly can’t use nongendered pronouns when he knows (or thinks he knows) the gender of the person he is talking about?

  35. Ellis Bell*

    I’d probably go with: “It’s not generally considered “acceptance of a lifestyle” to have a baseline of politeness to a colleague, but if you’re that deeply uncomfortable around gay and trans people, then a workplace environment like this one might not be right for you. Regardless, we’d insist you adhere to kind and respectful pronouns and names here, so take that into account if you decide to stay.” What an arse this man must be. As though the throngs of adoring masses are coming to him for acceptance!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I really like “baseline of politeness.” That removes the framing around religious belief and puts it right back into widely accepted workplace norms.

  36. Elsewise*

    Some years ago when I was a manager, I had an employee request that as a religious accommodation we would ban all talk of personal lives in the office. This came after my grandboss explained to her that she could not ban talk of a gay man’s upcoming wedding when we’d JUST celebrated a straight woman’s wedding as a team. When he told her that HR was not going to approve that, she suggested that this was no problem, we could simply fire him so she’d never have to talk to him again!

    Later she tried to complain to HR about religious discrimination because he looked in her direction too much when talking about his husband.

  37. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    Why is it that “religious freedom” for some people only seems to apply to their own specific set of beliefs? Many Christians embrace JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) beliefs, but the conservatives want all Christians to think like they do – setting the calendar back 50-100 years.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      It’s about power. They want all of it.

      In a workplace, a power structure with that level of unbalance creates situations that end up in Alison’s inbox.

  38. ArtusBunnybane*

    referring to everyone by name is acceptable (to me) -IF- he treats everyone the same. All first or all family names.
    Pronouns are simply words to shorten longer nouns. in this case, names.
    AND as long as he’s not making a Big Deal about it. In otherwords, if he’d never mentioned it & just changed, no one would’ve noticed or cared.

    I object to people demanding I give them a personal pronoun. I don’t care; use whatever makes you happy. Its only point is to make people happy by a specific type of respect. Refer to me as she, he, they it’s all ok. Really.

    Others have different preferences; respect their requests or just use their name. In job – all same rule.

    1. metadata minion*

      “In other words, if he’d never mentioned it & just changed, no one would’ve noticed or cared.”

      Unless the nature of the job means he’s not frequently discussing other people, people would notice. In English it is extremely odd to not use third-person pronouns, and unless you’re incredibly skilled and practiced at it, it will stand out almost immediately.

  39. Mandie*

    I’m glad to see this topic addressed! I’ve often wondered about the legality of this type of religious claim, and I’m relieved to learn companies don’t have to accommodate it.

  40. LMW*

    A previous post had comments about using Public Universal Friend to support a coworker who couldn’t choose a name to go by. Could that be helpful here?

    1. Rainy*

      How exactly would that be helpful in this situation? Can you describe a specific scenario where it would be helpful?

    2. Nina*

      Not really, because the issue isn’t that the hypothetical trans coworker hasn’t chosen a name; the issue is that Employee Glassbowl has said he won’t refer to any hypothetical trans coworker by their correct pronouns. The problem is not the trans person. The problem is the transphobe.

      Trans coworker is assumed to have a name and preferred pronouns, and Glassbowl has to do one of the following:
      – use the correct name and pronouns for everyone in the office
      – use the correct name and no pronouns for everyone in the office
      – use no name or pronouns for everyone in the office
      – leave

      Calling the trans coworker a name he has chosen and they have not does the opposite of solving the problem.

  41. morethantired*

    This doesn’t make any sense because if you’re willing to use the name someone prefers for any possible reason, why not their pronouns? Like if a nonbinary employee says their name is Slade and they use they/them pronouns, how would this guy even know what the gender they were assigned at birth was for sure OR what their deadname might be in order to follow his own stupid protocol? His assumption that he’d be able to clock the gender or name assigned at birth for any person he comes into contact with is as absurd as it is offensive.

    1. Double A*

      Yeah I have a nonbinary coworker and I actually have no idea what gender they were assigned at birth. It can be a bit of an adjustment to switch from gendered to non-gendered pronouns if you knew someone first as Oldname and Pronouns, the same way it takes awhile to swtich to remembering women’s (cause it’s still 99.9% women who change their names with marriage) new name when they get married. But when you meet someone and the only name and pronouns you know are their current ones, it’s no harder than using the correct gendered pronoun.

  42. Alan*

    First of all, yay for SCOTUS on this one. That said, Genesis refers to God as a plural. I wonder how the gentleman in question would feel about a very Biblical “they” when referring to their God.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      If the OP’s coworker has traditional Christian beliefs (other than missing the whole point about loving others), then that is a completely different thing, and referring to one God as plural is appropriate.

  43. There You Are*

    This is so clear-cut. I know that it sucks to have to compare one marginalized group to another, but if someone said, “I cannot have a peer or manager who has a darker skin color than mine because my religious belief is that the sons of Ham are sub-human; if you force me to work with them, I shall quit,” we all know EXACTLY what the correct response would be.

  44. NothingUsefulToSay*

    Just got out of a nonprofit meeting where one person whose pronouns are they/them according to their Zoom name, insisted on calling everyone else in the meeting they/them too. It was obvious and uncomfortable to navigate, and misgendering everyone else in the meeting (https://www.askamanager.org/2022/05/should-we-require-they-them-pronouns-as-the-default-for-everyone-at-our-meetings.html). Discrimination at work obviously can’t be tolerated if it rising to the point of singling somebody out in a negative way, but the endless minefield around pronouns – when to ask, whether to ask, what if someone isn’t ready to share yet, what if someone changes to one set of pronouns and then back again, asking everyone to share their pronouns but some people don’t want to, etc is like this unspoken issue nobody is even allowed to mention

    1. Mid*

      It is very much talked about, and it’s really not a minefield. People say their pronouns if and when they want, companies make it clear that discrimination and mistreatment is not allowed, people have consequences for discriminatory behavior just like anything else. If someone changes pronouns, then everyone uses those pronouns.

      It really isn’t complicated. It’s not a minefield.

    2. Dinwar*

      This kind of reminds me of the fear of autistic people and the like being violent. See “Of Mice and Men” for a powerful example of this trope. The reality is that it’s FAR more likely that someone will be violent towards them. I never really thought about it until my son was diagnosed with autism and I saw first-hand how often he was violent towards others (about what you’d expect from a young child) vs others being violent towards him (vastly more common). Similarly, the image of the hostile transgendered person belligerently shoving their lifestyle in people’s faces is popular in certain types of media, but the reality is that by far the majority simply want to live their lives and not have to constantly fight to simply be treated as a human being.

      In other words: I simply don’t see a high likelihood of this becoming a problem.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        Yes, this is scaremongering (also autistic, also not a violent person – I can’t even bring myself to call people insulting names).

    3. Polar Vortex*

      Rule of thumb:
      It’s never wrong to share your own pronouns to implicitly let people know that you are a safe space to share theirs if they so choose. Then you don’t have to ask or debate about if you should ask. You sharing yours gives everyone else the option to share in a meeting or to not share. The choice is in their hands. They might get misgendered but that’s their choice.

      I’m trans-masc. I can come off as female if I don’t provide pronouns. There are times it’s not worth the extra step because I’m getting things shipped at FedEx and people will misgender me because of it. That’s my choice. I also proactively share my pronouns and if people don’t want to share theirs, it’s a non-issue.

      Also if people change pronouns, that’s fine. No different than someone stating they’re married and now going by Mrs. Jones not Ms. Smith. You don’t overthink that change, don’t overthink this one. You might call them Ms Smith a time or two until it sticks but you adapt.

      1. Lavender*

        Very well said. My pronouns are they/them or she/her. If I don’t want to out myself, I either don’t share my pronouns or just say she/her. It’s not ideal but it’s also not my employer’s fault. I’d rather they continue to be inclusive than stop asking for pronouns altogether.

        1. Polar Vortex*

          I feel you. Although I am very out at work, we’re an international company and I work with contractors at locations that are generally not queer friendly. So like you it’s not ideal but there are times I specifically allow people to use she/her because that’s safest for when I travel there.

          But I’m generally lucky to have a company that is supportive and work with people who know and use the right pronouns. And it’s a choice that works for me, but it’s all about us having that choice.

          1. Lavender*

            My coworkers are great as far as I can tell, but I’m still relatively new so I’d rather err on the side of not outing myself until I’ve gotten to know the work environment better. I also recently moved to a place that has a history of being very politically conservative (although it’s gotten a lot better in recent years), so better safe than sorry.

    4. Lavender*

      Do they default to calling everyone they/them and then change their language when they learn the person’s correct pronouns? If so, I don’t think that’s an issue. It’s an acknowledgment that not everyone uses pronouns that align with their physical appearance, and they’re probably trying not to make assumptions unless they’ve been told otherwise.

      If they’re calling everyone they/them even after they know their pronouns (assuming the person they’re talking about doesn’t go by they/them), that is indeed misgendering and it’s an issue that should be addressed. Call people by the pronouns they want to be called, end of story.

      I really don’t think it’s a minefield, though. Give people the opportunity to share their pronouns (during meeting introductions, in Zoom names, in email signatures, etc.), but don’t require it and don’t make a big deal out of it if someone chooses not to. Do your best to keep track if someone changes their pronouns, and don’t deliberately misgender people. That’s really all there is to it.

      1. Polar Vortex*

        Yeah 100% that if someone’s misgendering them by calling people they/them when they’ve stated they use she/her, that’s a problem.

        Defaulting to they/them when you don’t know and especially when the person has a name where you can’t guess – Alex as a great example – is fine.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I don’t think this is as big of a problem to be around as people fear. If someone hasn’t shared their pronouns, yet you just wait for them to feel comfortable being out about using them… before you use them! I don’t know how I would feel about being called ‘they’ in a meeting (I go by ‘she’ and ‘her’) ..but everyone gets called ‘they’ occasionally so if it wasn’t pointed or snarky, or deliberately misgendering me, I think it would be an easy one to shrug off on the assumption that they don’t know my pronouns. If I found it was bothering me I would say: “Oh, I should have mentioned my pronouns are..” The only minefield is when people are weirdly fixated on calling someone the wrong pronouns and won’t be corrected.

  45. H.Regalis*

    Literally was just talking about this with my partner last night.

    LW, I hope he does y’all a favor and quits before anyone trans or NB has to deal with his bullshit.

    He’s entitled to think whatever he wants, but when he’s at work, the words coming out of his mouth had better be their correct pronouns and name, otherwise his ass is getting kicked to the curb.

  46. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    If he quits then he has solved the problem for you.
    Just don’t push him to quit in any way, make sure your organization acts unimpeachably because he will probably try to sue claiming constructive dismissal.

    And prepare for his quitting, make sure he does not have knowledge or experience that no one else can cover for or could cripple your organization when he leaves.

  47. dackquiri*

    I’m a pretty lapsed Catholic, but technically a confirmed one. And one of the things I learned in the path to confirmation was the church’s stance is they don’t recognize any marriage involving a non-Christian. Not really a religious belief a lot of people claim as a value, but there’s precedent.

    As far as I’m concerned, no matter what your religion compels you to feel about trans/nb people, refusing to use the pronouns they tell you to is on par with insisting “I will not refer to Jane as Mrs. Williams as she wants me to, I will only be referring to her as [pulls out phone to google maiden name] as Ms. Smith.”

  48. a heather*

    I know you have mentioned times when a man is using his religion to never meet alone with a female subordinate, but I don’t recall mention of the law there. I do remember you saying it would be detrimental to the female subordinate, because they would not have the same opportunities to “have the boss’s ear” or whatever that a similar man would. Is this also a case where you would need to have the manager never meet alone with anyone?

    I could have missed it or not remembered it quite clearly, of course. Just thought of that case when I read this.

    1. Tesuji*

      Considering that (at least in some jurisdictions) “people that are a threat to my marriage” is considered an unprotected class and so firing them is not gender discrimination, I’m not entirely sure that someone refusing to be alone with particular individuals to protect their marriage would actually be considered unlawful discrimination in all jurisdictions.

      In Iowa, at least (where the above case came from), I believe the defense would actually be stronger the more explicit it was that the decision not to meet with them was based on their personal attractiveness.

      1. BubbleTea*

        If they’re deciding not to meet with anyone of (or who they perceive to be of) a specific gender, but are happy to meet with others, that’s unlawful. If they conduct all meetings with a chaperone and an open door, just in case they’re overcome by sudden impulses to leave their spouse and devote themselves to the person they’re meeting with, regardless of gender, that’s ridiculous but lawful.

      2. a heather*

        If only one gender, and all of that gender, are “people that are a threat to my marriage”, then it seems that it would be protected. (Which may not have been the case in this suit, but was in the cases I was referring to.)

        This particular case is probably worse because of it seems to be a small business.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If a manager is giving men and women different opportunities based on gender — which is what that is — then yes, they would need to either give them to everyone or no one. They can’t do it by gender.

  49. Kayem*

    Unfortunately, the state I live in is trying to push through a bill that would make it so employers can’t require employees to use a person’s preferred pronoun or name. It’s been amended multiple times, so who knows what the final thing will look like, but I have no doubt it will pass.

    Whether it holds up in court is another matter.

    1. Random Dice*

      It’s federal law, so… good luck with that.

      Then again our SCOTUS is illegitimate and corrupt, so…

  50. Observer*

    Why are you having these discussions? From what I have seen, the less you discuss it in advance, the better of you are with a LOT of people. If you argue with them, they dig in and get entrenched. If you just don’t go there, but then you hire someone they are a lot more likely to go along with pronouns etc.

    Now, if the conversation came up because you heard him loudly proclaiming that “All X (fill in the blank) are going to hell. My Deity says so!” that’s a different issues. But then the issue is not a general “we might hire someone some day”. But “Your opinions of who is going to Hell are yours and you get to hold them. But you do NOT get to bring them into the office.” Don’t get side tracked by who he has “trouble” or “no trouble” working with. Don’t discuss this. This is a statement of official policy at your organization.

    And, assuming you have your ducks in a row, when you hire someone you simply assume good behavior. Do not ask anyone if they are ok with it, etc. Just assume good behavior and treat that as *normal*. So you introduce the new stock room clerk as “Meet Chris. They go by they / them. They will be taking over the position Tracy left.” And on with the show. Chris being NB is just not a big deal.

    Now, things are a bit more complicated here – your employee has indicated that he’s got issues. But still, don’t bring it up. On the other hand DO keep your eyes open in case he decides to never use a pronoun for Chris or calls them hom or her (depending on how they present.) Because you do know that Employee has made an issue of this is the past. So you (fortunately) cannot assume that he’s going to make this his hill to die on. But you also can’t assume that he’s going to behave. So, like I said, keep an eye on him.

    1. Kel*

      I disagree; I think this person is doing due diligence to ensure a safe environment for their future staff. The LW says this person has been open previously about their views. By addressing it now, they are not going to force a trans person into a potentially dangerous or, at minimum, uncomfortable situation.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      This assumes that cis people aren’t affected by transphobic rants in their vicinity. This need not be true; cis people have trans friends, partners, children, parents or other beloved folk. Cis people might also just agree trans people are people and deserve respectful treatment accorded to people, and not want to hear the opinions of someone who will announce unsolicited that he has these opinions.

      1. Observer*

        Right. I did say that if he’s saying these things around other people, rather than in 1-1 conversations with management, that has to be shut down.

        Even there, though, I wouldn’t be having “discussions” about it. The OP simply needs to tell him that he can’t say those things in the office. And of course, since they know that this person not only holds these opinions but has gone so far as to say this stuff, they DO need to keep an eye on him. Not because he’s religious, but because he has said that he is likely to refuse to comply with policy.

  51. Phony Genius*

    If I’m reading this right, the company has not yet hired such a person, at least not in this department. So he had no reason to say this now, but he did.

    You can wait until such a day comes, see if he follows through, and act accordingly at that time. (As unlikely as it is that he will change his mind before then.) Or, you can dismiss him now based on his comments indicating his intent to discriminate against a hypothetical future employee.

    1. Kel*

      You don’t need to wait till someone is transphobic AT someone to take action. They can be transphobic in general and be dealt with accordingly.

  52. Eater of Cupcakes*

    On a related note on pronoun use in the workplace (and elsewhere too): What’s the consensus on proper etiquette when somebody uses multiple pronouns? Like how one person I know uses she/her and they/them.

    What I mean is, if everybody else uses “she” about a person during a conversation, am I then rude for using “they” or “he” in that same conversation? Or is it cool as long as it’s a person who’s just as fine with “they” or “he” as she is with “she”?

    Also, I’ve been in situations where somebody had two sets of pronouns, but everybody only used the one set. For instance, they always said “she” and never “they”. Is that bad etiquette, or is it acceptable?

    And what’s appropriate procedure for when you’re supposed to choose whichever pronouns you want to use for somebody? I mean people who say “use any pronouns”. I’m supposed to choose whichever pronouns I feel are best, but how do I determine what makes a set of pronouns better than another set? I feel that unless I resort to transphobic visuals like “beard is he/him, breasts are she/her”, there’s no way to determine that. (If you can’t tell, I’m a bit anxious about committing a faux pas.)

    1. Rainy*

      I use she/they. Either is fine. Worry about whether it seems rude to the person whose pronouns they are, rather than whether it seems rude to the other people in the conversation. :) If you’re using one of their preferred pronouns you’re fine.

      People mostly use “she” for me. It’s fine. If at some point they mostly use “they”, that’s also fine.

      As for the appropriate procedure when you’re supposed to choose whatever, I can’t give you a definitive policy statement from The Folks Who Use A Variety Of Pronouns, but I typically will use “they” same as I would if I don’t know pronoun preferences.

    2. Dawn*

      This may come as a surprise, but most of us are actually verbal and you can ask if we have any preference. And if we don’t, we genuinely mean that you can use whichever you prefer.

      Just because I can’t stress this enough: we are not mysterious incomprehensible beings incapable of reproducing human language – you can just ask if you’re uncertain!

      I go by she/they but the vast majority of people who know me prefer to use she and that’s fine – I encourage them to use whatever makes it easier for them not to mess it up.

      1. Eater of Cupcakes*

        I know that people can talk of course, but there are many situations where asking isn’t an option. Like when it’s a celebrity that I have no way of asking personally. And sometimes it can feel disrespectful to ask. If somebody says “Use whatever pronouns you want to use!” then asking for clarification feels like I’d basically be asking “Okay, so what pronouns do I want to use?

        And if I can be honest… the reason I asked about this is because I have a lot of social anxiety about this, and sarcasm just makes me even more anxious about this kind of thing and makes me more nervous about messing up. And I get that it’s not your fault that I’m a person with anxiety (it’s a life-long issue), it’s just… I’m doing my best, you know? I’m asking for help because I want to show people respect, and I promise that I did my best to write my post in a manner that wouldn’t be disrespectful.

        But for what it’s worth, if I said something wrong then I’m sorry that I acted rudely, and I’ll try not to be so hurtful in the future. Thank you for being informative in your answer.

        1. Dawn*

          I’m also a person with anxiety, so I get it. I completely understand that, and I sympathize.

          And I really don’t know if I have a good or sufficiently kind way to express my feelings on this, honestly. What it comes down to is that trans/NB people get really, really tired of hearing pretty basic stuff talked about like we’re not in the room or like it’s a minefield when we’ve explicitly told you what we’d like you to do, and are perfectly willing to field follow-up questions. And most of us are really chill even when people do make a mistake!

          But just like with people who aren’t trans, or nonbinary, or agender, or whatever, my advice is generally to trust people when they tell you how they’d like to be referred to, because it’s really othering to always have people acting like they’re walking on eggshells around us. It’s not respectful to treat us like active hand grenades. I just wanna get my print-outs, or pick up my mail, or whatever the case may be, not cause an existential crisis for someone because I have more than one preferred pronoun.

          If you want to show people respect, the best way to do that is to believe what they’re telling you, and that they are reasonable, rational adults who will politely redirect you if you misstep, until proven otherwise.

        2. metadata minion*

          Unfortunately the answer for this is “it depends on the person”. Some people who use multiple pronouns are completely fine with either; others would ideally like people to periodically alternate. And some people would be thrilled at the support of you being the only person to use “they”; others would appreciate the gesture but prefer you to just go along with the majority if the office isn’t trans-friendly.

      2. Pierrot*

        My dad actually asked me about this when his team had an applicant who used she/they pronouns. He wanted to be respectful but he wasn’t sure which pronoun to use. I said that he can ask the applicant if there is a pronoun that they prefer and go from there.

        He is a pretty progressive person, but I remember that when he became more aware of non-binary identities, he definitely expressed some confusion (especially about “the grammar” of using they/them pronouns). He has come along way through making a good faith effort to learn about gender diversity. I had a boss who was in her early 70s and when I spoke to her about non-binary genders after she misgendered a customer repeatedly, she got all huffy and said “Well I have many friends who are gay and I have always been respectful.”

        It comes down to peoples’ willingness to learn and commitment to being respectful. My dad knows that he is still learning but he cares about respecting people and is willing to ask questions when he isn’t sure about something. My former boss, on the other hand, had the attitude that she already knew everything there was to know and believed that she was “tolerant” so there was no need for her to learn more about gender diversity.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      I think you’re overthinking this.
      If someone says they use multiple pronouns, use any of them or ask them to clarify. You don’t really need to worry what others use.

      If someone says use any pronouns, take them at their word. There isn’t a “better” pronoun.

    4. Lavender*

      If they say more than one set of pronouns is fine, it’s okay to take them at their word. If you get it wrong, they’ll correct you and you can both move on from it. And if you’re still not sure, it’s really okay to ask. As a nonbinary person, I’d rather people ask me for clarification than feel unsure about what pronouns to use–as long as you ask respectfully and out of a genuine desire to get it right, I’m happy to answer.

    5. Eater of Cupcakes*

      Several people have pointed out that I can just ask the person in question, so I think I need to clarify that I’m asking about the kind of situation where asking directly isn’t an option. Sorry about not spelling that out!

      1. Lavender*

        If you can’t ask them directly, then use your best judgment. In my experience, most people won’t be offended if you mess up because you genuinely didn’t know–it only becomes a problem when people keep getting it wrong after multiple corrections, or when people make a big deal over how hard it is to correctly gender someone. But really, if a person says they’re fine with any pronouns, you can use any pronouns.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        I feel like I’m missing something here.
        If you’re aware they use multiple pronouns, any of them are fine.

        There’s nothing more to it than that.
        The only reason we’re suggesting to ask is because you seem to want some extra reassurance.

      3. Wingwing*

        As a nonbinary person myself, if you can’t ask, you can also just…use both/all. Like, in the same statement, even. I do it all the time: “She said she’s doing this now, but I dunno what they’re doing later, if their brother isn’t available to drive.” “They’re going to pick up their cat from the vet, then he’s meeting us at the restaurant.”

      4. Julia*

        If someone says she/they are their pronouns and I have no way of asking for clarity I use they. There isn’t a generally applicable correct answer for how to handle the situation. The reason I default to they is to convey that I’m aware it’s an option. I feel like if I use she initially it seems like I think that is the only pronoun option.

    6. Kora*

      I’m going to take a swing at answering this point by point, with the caveat that there isn’t one perfect etiquette that covers all people and all situations. Generally speaking, it’s only rude to use pronouns for somebody that they’ve said they don’t want (eg. if someone uses she/ they it’s rude to call them he). Otherwise it’s more likely to be a question of convenience or ease of communication, rather than what’s rude or not rude.

      In your first example, you’re not being rude to the person being talked about if they use all pronouns and you use ‘he’ or ‘they’ to talk about them in the same conversation other people are referring to them as ‘she’. It *is* possible that if you do that, the people using ‘she’ will react as if you are scolding them or trying to make a point. This is not because you breached etiquette, this is because a lot of people are touchy about trans issues and hypersensitive to the possibility of being criticised about them.

      In your second example, this is an area where personal preferences vary. Lots of people who use multiple pronouns are perfectly happy being referred to exclusively by one set. For others, it can be kind of a bummer if, for example, they’ve made it clear that they are nonbinary and nobody ever makes the effort to use a gender neutral pronoun for them rather than a gendered one. But if you’re not on the kind of terms with a person where you could have a conversation with them about that, your best bet is to take them at their word that they’re happy with whatever pronouns they’ve said they’re happy with.

      Again in the absence of the kind of relationship where you can have a more detailed conversation, you should usually assume ‘use any pronouns’ means ‘I have no preference’, or possibly, ‘my preference is to hear a variety’. Pick a pronoun you can use comfortably (and by comfortably I mostly mean ‘without conveying that you’re weirded out by this person every time you refer to them’). It’s fine to sometimes default to typical gender cues, or indeed to default to the opposite of your first instinct just for practice, provided you’re talking about them like they’re a normal human being. But you should generally assume that ‘I’m happy with any’ means just that, not ‘I want you to make a choice so I can secretly judge whether you did it right’ (as another anxiety sufferer, this is definitely a pit trap I fall into in many different contexts!).

    7. Chirpy*

      If the person has previously said they’re ok with any pronouns, then any pronouns are ok.

      For someone who goes by both she and they, I personally might default to they just to help it stick in my own mind. But sometimes it’s dependent on context. If everyone else is calling Alex she, and Alex is ok with that, sometimes it’s less disruptive to the conversation to stick with she. (also if it’s in a context where outing Alex as they might be dangerous for Alex.) But sometimes slipping a they into the conversation is a nice reminder that Alex goes by both. You just have to read who you’re talking with. (And if people are surprised, just a quick “oh, Alex goes by both” is fine.)

      I have a friend who goes by she in some specific contexts, and zie in others, so I follow her/zir lead on when to use what pronouns. But that’s something that zie told me specifically, I don’t randomly switch zir pronouns.

      And just from my personal experience with people mispronouncing my name, if you do mess up, don’t freak out about it. I’d much rather have someone say a quick “Remind me again how you say your name (or what pronouns you use)? Thanks.” than a frustrating 15 minute “I’m so terrible at this, so sorry, now making this such a big deal that I’m so worked up that I’m going to get it wrong again because I’m too worried about getting it wrong” anxiety ramble. The anxiety ramble is the bigger faux pas, a quick question and correction is not.

    8. Dahlia*

      The procedure is to ask them. “Do you like she/her and they/them equally, or do you want me to use a mix of both?”

      If Robert sometimes goes by Bob, how would you handle it? You’d ask, right?

    9. Kel*

      There is a lot of discussion around she/they and people using only she, because they consider it to be like ‘she-lite’.

      Personally; I use they when someone indicates that is one of their preferences OR that they have no preference, because currently that is likely the one that gets used less.

  53. sandvvich*

    I love this piece about being nonbinary and Christian; It points out that all of the binaries presented in Genesis aren’t actually binary.

    An excerpt:
    “God made “day and night.” this sounds like a binary, similar to “male and female,” right? but that isn’t quite all we experience in 24 hours. sunrises and sunsets do not fit into the binary of day or night. yet God paints the skies with these too.”


  54. just thinking*

    If a person (rightly or wrongly) considers referring to someone a certain way to be untruthful, and considers lying to be against their moral compass, then why is it necessary to force that person to say something they consider a lie, rather than let them keep quiet on the issue?

    As a comparison to the question of same-sex relationships, if a person genuinely believed that no one was every *really* gay and that anyone could be happy in a straight marriage if they tried hard enough, regardless of whether or not that belief is well-grounded or true, that person wouldn’t be expected to explicitly affirm in the workplace that 1) exclusive same-sex attraction exists and 2) a union between two men or two women is just as much a marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The person may simply quietly hold their opinions and avoid the topic if it comes up.

    With trans/NB individuals, it seems different in that there’s no real option for quiet disagreement/topic avoidance – one must either give the impression that he or she believes the person is what they say they are (via pronoun usage) or (whether intentionally or unintentionally) give offense by avoiding pronouns or misgendering.

    1. Dawn*

      You don’t have to “believe” that I am who I say I am, but I do require that you respect my request to be called what I ask to be called. I’m over here calling you “just thinking” even though I absolutely believe that that’s not your real name.

      You are more than welcome to “quietly disagree”. But you do have to respect my identity when we are working together in exactly the same way that I have to respect yours.

    2. Rainy*

      If lying is against your moral compass, what do you say when your friends or colleagues show you pictures of their ugly pets or babies?

      If in that circumstance you don’t point out loudly that your coworker’s baby is actually the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen, the human version of a rapidly decompressed blobfish, you can probably stand to use your colleagues’ preferred pronouns.

      And if you can say “what a cute baby” but not “This is my colleague Sara, she works in accounting” ask yourself why…and really sit with the answer. And then fix yourself.

      1. just thinking*

        1) I really am referring to a hypothetical person, not my own habits or beliefs. I do know and befriend people with whom I disagree and understand perspectives I don’t share.
        2) Bold of you to assume I wouldn’t call a baby or pet ugly if I thought she were. (I actually think babies are cutest when they are squinchiest and smallest and ugliest, but that’s a personal preference.)
        3) Should an employer fire everyone who unilaterally refuses to call babies or pets cute?

      2. Lily*

        For the sake of this thought experiment, I think there are a lot of people who really do make an effort to be honest in all situations due to their religion. You can still be polite about it. The baby: “oh wow! how old is she now?” The dog: “oh, I love dogs! here’s a picture of mine!”

        In many religions, the law is not an excuse to sin – it’s not as easy as just doing whatever you’re legally mandated to do. This coworker sounds like a jerk who’s going about things the wrong way, but it is a real struggle for people to stay true to their faith when challenges arise.

        1. just wondering*

          ^ that kind of thing is what I’m talking about. Dodging the issue at hand without saying something a person believes to be untrue is an option in almost every other case – why not this one?

          I can think of so many examples of controversial beliefs, whether related to reproductive issues (surrogacy, IVF, contraception, abortion), marriage/sexuality issues (cohabitation, divorce & remarriage, same-sex marriage), or political issues, where a person can quietly refuse to affirm a belief that they don’t endorse, while also not needing to come out and say explicitly that they don’t endorse that belief. I’m having difficulty seeing what a similar option would look like on this issue.

          1. Dawn*

            The core of this revolves around the fact that, legally, you cannot treat someone in a protected class differently than other people, or create a hostile work environment by making your disdain for their identity known, even if that’s only implicitly. If what you are talking about is a protected characteristic and your “quiet refusal” is perceptible, in the workplace it falls afoul of the law, period.

            1. just thinking*

              There’s a conflation here of how the individual is treated and a person’s beliefs regarding their identity/protected class. Some religions (or sects) have clearly defined beliefs that many people consider sexist, homophobic, etc. Yet religion is a protected class. Is a person who makes the assertion in the workplace that any religion that only allows men to be ministers is sexist, but treats people of those religions with the same respect as anyone else, creating a hostile work environment?

              1. Appletini*

                If Person A found our Person B was a member of Religion That Only Allows Men To Be Ministers and kept harassing them about Supporting A Sexist Religion every day, most competent HRs would tell them to knock it off. If Person B kept telling Woman A that they will not accept her authority as manager and citing Person B’s Religion That Only Allows Men To Be Ministers as a reason, most competent HRs would tell them to stop it.

                The thing is, all these thought experiements can usually be solved in real life, and because they involve debating real people’s lives and identities, that’s where they should be solved, instead of arguing them across the Internet.

          2. Aitch Arr*

            Would you not call a newly married co-worker by their new surname just because in your religion (we’ve seen this referred to up-thread) a marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic which wasn’t officiated in a church isn’t ‘valid?’

            If your answer is of course, I would call the newly married co-worker by their new surname, then your argument about not calling a co-worker by the name and pronouns they use falls apart.

            1. just thinking*

              This is an actually good example! I personally am opposed to women taking their husband’s names simply because the husband is male, and I keep my female friends in my phone under their maiden names.

              I think there’s a few different considerations with this example:
              1) How often is it necessary to refer to someone with their last name in the workplace? I think someone could stick to calling someone by their first name in most offices and not worry about it coming up. Could the person get by with saying the married coworker “goes by [new last name] now” rather than directly calling them by the new name if the topic comes up? It’s possible this varies by workplace but I rarely encounter situations where I actually need to use someone’s last name.
              2) Does going along with a last name change necessarily signify anything? A person could change their name to Smith just for the fun of it, rather than because they married someone and took that last name. Could someone say that they’ll go along with whatever last name changes since they aren’t going to personally decide which reasons are valid or not? (Related possibilities: what about situations where a person insisted on referring to a woman by her maiden name rather than the married name for feminist reasons? Or what about if a married woman kept her name, but someone insisted on referring to her by the husband’s last name?) Would/should your hypothetical person be professionally penalized for stating the conditions under which they consider marriage valid, whether or not they make explicit the implications regarding their not-validly-married colleague? Does that change if someone specifically asked their opinions versus if it came up “organically” (perhaps as a counterargument to claims of homophobia, since there’s lots of straight marriages that don’t meet the Catholic Church’s standard for validity either)?
              3) Could someone make the argument that going along with a name change (for first or last name) is distinct from pronoun usage in that pronouns are innately gendered, but there’s no real reason why a woman can’t be named Jim, or why a man can’t be named Sue?
              I appreciate the good faith example, and I wonder what the response would be if our hypothetical person simply avoided referring to their coworker by the new name for the same reasons.

              1. Appletini*

                Or what about if a married woman kept her name, but someone insisted on referring to her by the husband’s last name?

                This happens and it is rude and sexist.

                1. Wingwing*

                  Ugh, I am dead certain my bigot sister would do this. She’s so steeped in internalized misogyny that she addresses all holiday cards to my household with my (unmarried) partner’s name first, even though she’s met him like twice and barely knows him. Because in her words, “He’s the man and therefore he’s the head of the household.” Never mind it’s my house that I bought.

                  (She also lost friends when she did her wedding invites because she ignored the women she’d known since childhood, deferring to their male partners she didn’t know as well instead. Trust me, patriarchy sucks, but insternalized misogyny aside, she’s also a genuinely terrible person. If she lost and still loses friends over her behavior, she’s earned her fate.)

                2. Dinwar*

                  People refer to me by my wife’s last name all the time. Due to work I don’t live with my family, so if I’m home and, say, a repair man shows up that I haven’t seen before it’s always “Oh, you must be Mr. Wifesname!” Gives me a small insight as to what it’s like for women who are misnamed constantly, and I can absolutely see why other people would be angry with it. For my part I find it mildly interesting from an intellectual angle, as an example of a weird sociological quirk that I can investigate from multiple angles.

              2. Lucky Meas*

                Of course someone would be penalized for refusing to use a coworker’s name because “their marriage is not valid, therefore the name change isn’t valid”, whether that marriage is LGBT or across religions or whatever conditions the individual holds. Similarly, if your friends tell you to please use their married names going forward and you refuse because of your own beliefs, that would make you a jerk.

                Refusing to use a coworker or friend’s name is such a rude act, it’s a denial of them as a person. It completely destroys the relationship because that coworker/friend now feels like you don’t respect or value them. If you’re trying to find ways to announce disapproval of someone’s personhood and decisions without offending them… good luck…

              3. Wingwing*

                I keep my female friends in my phone under their maiden names.

                I hope you ASK your female friends if they want to be known by their unmarried names in your phone, or you’re still just being a jerk who’s disrespectful of their identities, which a name is a very important part of.

                I hate the practice of “take your husband’s last name in a hetero marriage because he’s THE MAN and you’re the woman and therefore his property,” but also, plenty of people change their names when they get married because they WANT to. Sometimes they actually do want their husband’s name, and sometimes they just don’t want their unmarried name. I can name a number of woman friends who took their partner’s last name when they got married because they hated the baggage attached to their unmarried name and wanted to leave it behind. If I get married, I’ll be changing my last name,* but to something totally new that defines me–not my partner’s (it doesn’t mesh well with my first name). I’d be pretty darn offended if I found out you had me in your phone as my dead unmarried name.

                *I don’t know if I’d change my last name without getting married. Doing so outside of marriage is often a much bigger legal hassle than doing it because you got hitched.

                1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  Thank you. I very much insist on being ‘Mrs’ as a title (I have reasons for not wanting to be ‘Ms’ but support the adoption of it for general use) and my surname changed after marriage. I’m also a fire breathing feminist.

                  Anyone who refuses to use my name and claims it’s because of the patriarchal nature of a woman changing it would be swiftly removed from my friends.

                  I have a right to be called what I want. This goes for pronouns, names etc.

                2. Aitch Arr*

                  Yeah, I changed my name when I got married because my surname at the time was my ex-husband’s.

                  If someone continued to call me Ms. $EXLASTNAME, I’d be pissed off.

              4. Aitch Arr*

                Or, you know, you could respect people and call and refer to them what they want to be called, whether that’s pronouns, first name, or surname.

              5. Theo*

                “I keep my female friends in my phone under their maiden names.”

                okay so this is NOT just a thought experiment and this person DOES refuse to use people’s chosen names, so I’m not sure engaging with them is a good idea ongoing.

                1. Wingwing*

                  Yep. I replied, but I had a feeling they’re not here in good faith to start. (My original comment had a crack about “it’s not a dogwhistle if you say the quiet part out loud,” but I took it out because I worried it would be seen as kneejerky rabble-rousing.

    3. Dinwar*

      “If a person (rightly or wrongly) considers referring to someone a certain way to be untruthful….”

      First, people can be wrong. It’s fair to say that they are wrong when that’s the case. If someone is transgendered, they are trans–and the opinions of others do not change this fact.

      Second, why does the opinion of the person who objects trump the opinion of the person being referred to?

      As for your second paragraph, I absolutely would insist that someone who doesn’t believe in homosexual love refer to a man’s husband as his husband. Your opinions on whether this is valid or not are 100% irrelevant–there are legal and social issues involved, and the simple fact is that this man is that man’s husband. (For what it’s worth, if a homosexual man married a woman for some reason, that woman would be his wife, regardless of what anyone thought about the relationship.) If they refused to do so it would be a disciplinary issue.

      I can tell you how much this can matter from personal experience. My wife and I got married in a legal ceremony before we had the social/religious one. My wife got injured on the way to that second wedding. When the doctor heard that we were on our way to the wedding he refused to let me see her on the grounds that we weren’t “really” married. I had to get a copy of my marriage license in order to be permitted to be in the room with her, and he still tried to argue with me. If that’s how they treat a middle-class heterosexual couple, imagine the absolute horrors that will be visited upon a homosexual couple, or trans people. We had it easy, and it was still a horrible situation I would never wish upon anyone. You’re asking why we object to people making it worse.

    4. anna*

      What if a person doesn’t believe in interracial marriage? Or, I dunno, the existence of French people or Jewish people? Would you consider it OK for someone to refuse to acknowledge those aspects of a coworker’s existence? Or is it only trans people who you think it’s okay to be hostile to at work?

    5. Kora*

      I’m very unconvinced by your example. Someone may be able to ‘quietly’ think that marriage is between a man and a woman, but when a coworker or client introduces them to his husband, they either treat them like any other married couple or they don’t. You can be quiet in the abstract, but not when you’re dealing with actual people.

      So yes, there’s no way to treat trans people with a basic level of civility while also misgendering them. If your ‘moral compass’ requires misgendering, you really need a job where you never interact with people (any people, ever, because you can’t actually tell who’s trans and who isn’t just by looking at them). You’re free to continue to ‘quietly disbelieve’ in trans people’s identities in the privacy of your own home (and when you talk to your friends, and when you vote, and on and on), but no, there’s not a compromise to be had on that extremely bare minimum in the workplace.

    6. Appletini*

      If a person sincerely believes the moon is made of green cheese, that does not give them the right to interrupt my astronomy class to say so, to correct my class handouts when I’m photocopying them, or to complain to HR about what I’m teaching.

      Also, why could a random person’s belief, sincere or not, trump what a person knows about their own self? Put another way, how could I be so certain that someone should use the pronouns I first identified them by rather than those tell tell me they use? Aren’t they the expert on who they are, rather than that I am the expert on who everyone else is?

    7. Chirpy*

      If someone considers lying against their moral compass, then they should use the pronouns given by their coworkers to avoid the possibility of lying by misgendering that person.

      If the coworker is “lying” about their gender, that’s the coworker’s problem for misgendering themself, not the person who is using the pronouns they were told to use.

    8. metadata minion*

      You don’t have to believe that nonbinary identities are real to refer to me as “they”. I’m not asking you to assert or believe anything other than “Metadata Minion uses they/them pronouns”. You may quietly think that my choice of pronoun is weird or sinful or contradictory as much as you want, but you need to use it when referring to me.

  55. Worldwalker*

    I know someone who believes that everyone who does not belong to their church is going to hell. (and the church is only about 100 people) This person nonetheless works in an office full of people who are, according to that religious belief, going to hell, and nonetheless treats them (and me; I’m going to hell too, according to them) civilly.

    Someone might feel Jesus Alvarez’s name is sacrilegious, but he’s still not allowed to call him Fred Alvarez instead. He might believe that dark skin is the Curse of Ham, but he’s still not allowed to demean black coworkers. He might believe that women should be silent and men should govern all things, but he still has to work for a female manager. Someone can *believe* whatever they want, but they still have to behave properly toward their co-workers. And using whatever pronoun they want is part of that.

    I always wonder, too, how those “religious beliefs” always seem to be those rules that give them license to discriminate against or repress others, but not the ones a few pages away that might inconvenience them, like prohibiting pork and seafood.

  56. Dawn*

    Trans/NB person here; I’m not American but I’m unfortunately familiar with what American law does and does not allow regarding discrimination against us and as an FYI while I am not a lawyer, everything that I have read about the invocation of “sincerely-held religious beliefs” says that you can request additional verification that these beliefs are, in fact, sincerely held and/or religious.

    Now, what the employee can offer as proof is very broad, but most bigots don’t know this and are very easy to trip up when you ask for proof that their beliefs are actually religious in nature; I’d argue that this employee’s explanation doesn’t constitute proof as being trans and being homosexual are two different things.

    1. Lily*

      This feels hairy to me. Are you saying the person would just have to provide Bible verses or something similar to back up their views? Or that the employer would be able to then deny accommodations if they didn’t feel the Biblical evidence was sufficient? (In normal cases where the accommodations are not violating the law, that is.)

      For what it’s worth, I think most Christians do know that being trans and homosexual are different things and use different Bible verses to account for their positions on both. That doesn’t change the law in this case, though.

      1. Dawn*

        Well, it’s like this. People walk on eggshells around “religious accommodation” in America but the reality is, someone can’t just come into work and say, “my sincerely-held religious beliefs require me to set my garbage can on fire every day at noon.” The employer is fully within their rights to ask them to provide additional details, both about their belief being sincerely-held and that it is, in fact, a religious one.

        And I know that most Christians know that being trans and homosexual are different things; the OP stated that this guy specifically conflated them.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I think it’s more that if someone says in January that their religion forbids them to work on Sunday, and then in June volunteers to work overtime on a particular Sunday afternoon, their manager can start assigning them regular Sunday shifts. That’s different from asking them for “proof” that other people agree with them, or challenging them because everyone else you know who won’t work on Sundays spends Sunday morning in church. There’s no legitimate “you must be at least this religious to receive an accommodation” or “you must be religious in a familiar pattern.”

    2. Aitch Arr*

      HR person here (obviously) and I so would not go there.

      The bar for ‘sincerely held’ is very low. Pursuing that angle would be foolish.

  57. bunniferous*

    Would defaulting to they/them be a workable compromise? Especially since people have used those pronouns to refer to others historically?

    1. Eater of Cupcakes*

      If you mean using those pronouns about everybody, then it probably wouldn’t. A trans man I know hates being called “they”, since to him it indicates that the speaker doesn’t want to recognize him as a “he”.

    2. Appletini*

      Ugh no! I recently read a discussion where someone referred to Justice Ketanji Jackson as “it”, and when called on their obnoxious dehumanization, said, “well some people prefer being called ‘it’.” Please do not encourage people to do this in the workplace — it’s bad enough and more online.

      1. Observer*

        That’s not really a valid comparison. The person who claims that they were using “it” for Justice Jackson because “some people prefer it” was lying. I’m not going to claim that there could not be a single human who prefers to be called “it”, but to claim that it’s a thing, that any noticeable segment of English speakers (even in the low single digit percent) is false. In this case, it was clearly also done JUST to Justice Jackson and the term is inherently dehumanizing.

        I’m not arguing that the employee should actually call everyone “they / them”. But if he were to do that, it would be a world away from *it*.

        1. alex (they/them)*

          Some people do in fact use “it”! It’s still not relevant in this situation as Justice Jackson to my knowledge is not one of those people.

    3. Observer*

      Defaulting to “they / then” only works for situations where you don’t know someone’s gender. In a case like this, that’s not what’s going – it’s an explicit refusal to use the gender the person indicates.

  58. Texas Teacher*

    If his religion said he could work with other racial/ethnic groups but he would have to refer to them by slurs you would have fired him on the spot. This is no different. (If you think no one would say this count yourself lucky to never have met this particular type of monster)

    Like the pharmacy story – if your religion says you can’t do part of your job – then having that job is against your religion and you need to pick job or religion.

  59. ConLaw Con*

    The law is clear that employers cannot grant religious accommodations that violate state or federal law

    I would like to know how you square this conclusion with the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, which held that an employer did not have to offer contraception coverage (otherwise required by the Affordable Care Act) due to religious objections.

    I suppose one answer is that in Hobby Lobby, the objector was an employer, not an employee. But somehow I doubt the Supreme Court would find that persuasive. Ultimately the court held that the free exercise clause prevailed over other laws.

    There is also the famous Masterpiece Cakeshop cases, in which the court held, again on free exercise grounds, that a Colorado bakery was not required to comply with civil rights laws obligating it to bake cakes for a same-sex wedding. This one concerned the rights of a business vis-a-vis customers, not vis-a-vis its own employees, but it further suggests the courts would find against the letter writer here.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      The Masterpiece decision rested on how the council addressed the complaint–IIRC, at least one person on the council specifically brought up the bakery owner’s religion during discussions. Having his religion be part of the discussion, and ultimately part of their decision against him, is what led to the SCOTUS ruling of religious discrimination.

  60. Religious and Sincere*

    Removed. I hope you will consider that denying people’s identities is hate speech; regardless, it’s not something you can do here. – Alison

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Treating your coworkers with basic respect is a non negotiable part of working in a modern multi-cultural office.

    2. Eater of Cupcakes*

      “freedom of speech is protected by the first amendment.”

      What you’re talking about is how the government cannot censor you. But that’s not at all what we’re talking about here. People have the legal right to say all sorts of things that still can get them fired.

      If I work as a spokesperson for Nike, I have the legal right to constantly talk about how Adidas shoes are much better than anything else on the market. It’s still gonna get me fired. An actor in a movie about the value of transgender rights has the legal right to express the idea that your chromosomes determine if you’re a man or a woman. Probably still gonna get replaced.

      1. Lavender*

        In the (paraphrased) words of my mom: “If you work at a shoe store and start telling your customers that they’ll get a better deal on a pair of sneakers at the place across the street, freedom of speech won’t protect you from losing your job.”

    3. Kippu*

      We understand the mental gymnastics you go through to deny people basic respect.

      Funny how so many of Jesus’ teachings go by the wayside for “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

    4. Rainy*

      You’re explaining the thought process like no one “gets it”. I understand the thought process, but I don’t agree with it, and furthermore, why are you really fixated on Genesis 5:2 but not Deuteronomy 2:11? Or Leviticus 11:3? Or Exodus 20:9-10?

      1. metadata minion*

        Also, fun fact — one very old if not necessarily super-well-known Jewish interpretation of that verse is that humans were originally created to be both male and female. As in, each individual was male and female at the same time.

        You can poke ancient texts until they mean pretty much whatever you want, and you should not use that power for bigotry.

        1. Rainy*

          Ah, Midrash. Who doesn’t love a bunch of scholars arguing with each other (and often, hilariously, themselves) over the course of 1800 years? (Nobody, frankly, Midrash is awesome.)

          When I became aware of Midrash tradition, it reminded me powerfully of the years-long arguments scholars used to have in the letters to the editor of scholarly journals, and I love that this is a scholarly tradition that goes back so far.

    5. Just Another Fed*

      Why are you assuming that you will inerrantly know the assigned-at-birth gender of every person you meet? Spoiler: you won’t. Trans people are much more common than you seem to think; it’s virtually certain you’ve interacted with trans people and used their correct pronouns to refer to them without ever being aware that you’ve done so.

    6. Lavender*

      You may not be trying to be hurtful, but that doesn’t undo the hurt that’s caused.

      You have the right to express your religious beliefs as they pertain *to you.* You don’t have to use they/them pronouns for yourself. You are free to identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, and behave in a traditionally masculine or feminine way. You can feel however you want to feel about trans and nonbinary people–I don’t agree with you, but you have a right to feel that way.

      However, your religious beliefs don’t entitle you create a hostile workplace for your coworkers. Whether or not you believe that misgendering is harmful, it is workplace discrimination in the legal sense and you don’t have the right to do it. How a person chooses to present themselves (including their name and pronouns) is their choice, and you need to respect that choice in the workplace.

    7. Sarra N. Dipity*

      What does your religion say about intersex individuals? Or those who don’t have XX/XY chromosomes (say, XXY, XYY, etc.)? There’s more than male and female. And in your worldview, you probably would admit that your god created all of those variations as well.

      There’s nearly infinite variety in this beautiful universe, and by forcing yourself into only seeing a dichotomy, you’re missing out on so much.

    8. nnn*

      Genuine question from someone who knows very little of your religion: how does that extrapolate to referring to other things that aren’t mentioned in your Bible? Like, I don’t actually know a complete list of everything that’s mentioned in your Bible, but maybe platypuses? Wi-fi networks? Yoga poses?

    9. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Most of us are not trying to be hateful or hurtful, but […]

      … but you’re gonna do it anyway, because that’s what denying people personhood IS.

      1. Rainy*

        Yup. And really, most of them *are* trying to be hateful, and they think they found the cheat code to be an asshole and not experience consequences.

    10. quicksilver*

      “I don’t hate those people, I just have deeply held religious beliefs that deny their entire social/cultural/biological existence and self-actualisation, and so I must insist on treating my (obviously infallible) interpretation of their identities/bodies/lives as the objectively correct one! I’m not being hateful though!!”

      I’ve heard this exact speech from many many conservative Christians over the course of my life, and it never lands like they seem to think it will. Do you not see how what you are saying is incredibly patronising and insulting? It doesn’t have to be stereotypical over-the-top “hatred” to be functionally dehumanising, othering, and disrespectful, and therefore inappropriate in any workplace environment (at least, any that does not formally promote that view).

      Anyway, I’m not naïve enough to think that I could change your convictions here — but good luck practicing them in this expansive world in which trans and gender-nonconforming and intersex people exist so abundantly and in such diversity that inevitably, now and again, your ascertainment of a person’s “God-given immutable biological sex” will be incorrect, and you will unknowingly refer to one of us unnatural abominations in our preferred manner! Perhaps with that in mind, one day you can learn to let go of your fixation on other people’s genitals and chromosomes and just call them the way they introduce themselves. :)

    11. Troutwaxer*

      What makes you think identity is contained in the genitals?

      The genitals, very obviously, have to work with the brain. So the brain needs the capability to talk to the genitals, and the brain/genitals connection is very complex. Not only that, but the brain needs to know who the “right” partner is, and what that person will look/act/behave like, and have some instinct for the mechanics involved in mating… Every bit of that has to be set up in a very specific fashion for someone to be completely heterosexual. So once again, why do you insist that sexual identity lives between the legs?

      And what if the brain is not set up perfectly, so someone isn’t completely heterosexual? What if their genes or the environment in their womb don’t work in exactly the fashion you approve of, such that someone is Gay, Bi or Trans? (Last I looked this was the current understanding of how someone becomes Trans – essentially there is an environmental or biological component, and sometimes the brain’s biology/chemistry doesn’t match your “heterosexual ideal” and this happens either in the womb, or it’s just plain genetic.)

      So why does your religion punch down in such an ugly way? (against people who are born that way?) Why insist that they are dangerous or horrible? Why practice prejudice instead of the kindness your religion’s founder thought most proper? What’s wrong with you/your religion? Are you only reading those biblical verses that give you permission to be a jerk?

      1. Troutwaxer*

        Sorry, the words “…brain set up perfectly, so someone…” above should have “…brain set up “perfectly,” so someone…” The quotes need to be there so I’m not seen as implying that heterosexuality is “perfect” because obviously it’s not.

    12. Also Religious and Sincere*

      I am also a sincerely practicing Christian, albeit one who belongs to a tradition that actively affirms trans and nonbinary individuals. I am genuinely not trying to be snarky when I say this, but even leaving the first amendment (which as addressed in a few other places in the comments only covers what the government can and can’t force you to say or not say, not what private businesses require of their employees) aside: Jesus died to save us from our sins, not the wordly results of our behavior. If you truly cannot square working somewhere where you are required to use a person’s preferred pronouns with your conscience, then it falls on you to not work there anymore. I feel I would similarly be required not to work anywhere that required me not to use people’s preferred pronouns, as deliberately misgendering someone goes against my sincere religious beliefs.

      (In a similar spirit of explaining my thought process on affirming all individuals’ gender: in the same sentence you quoted, the Bible also says “And God created man in His image.” Within the Bible, God is often referred to as male, but sometimes also as female or even as plural (and therefore without a specific gender). Furthermore, just because God created everyone in His image, He did not make us all alike; even genetically identical twins are born with unique fingerprints and personalities. I deeply and sincerely believe that the great variability in human genders (like the similar variability present in human biological sex) reflects God’s clear joy in the incredible variety evident in His creation, and that denying the existence of this variability is a denial of God’s omnipresent and omniscient skill as our Creator.)

  61. nnn*

    What strikes me is how much capital this guy is squandering for no reason.

    The situation being discussed is “if we ever hired someone who uses they/them pronouns.” It’s all hypothetical!

    Maybe they won’t end up hiring someone non-binary during this guy’s time with the organization. Maybe when they do hire someone non-binary, they’ll be in a role where this guy doesn’t have to interact with them. Or doesn’t have to refer to them. Maybe the teachings of his religion will evolve over time.

    He could have just said nothing, and maybe quietly started a leisurely search for a job that aligns more closely with his values.

    Instead, he’s got himself labelled in his boss’s head as Someone Who Will Create An Unsafe Work Environment.

    1. Letter Writer*

      LW here, yep was not expecting him to be so outright about it. So now I feel compelled to address this and want to go about it appropriately.

      1. Rainy*

        I mean, kudos to you for not just screaming and leaping at him. You’re *way* more professional than this dude.

      2. Observer*

        I don’t think you should have any sort of discussion. I’ve read your other comments, and I believe that even more strongly.

        1. You, and any other manager he talks to, must shut down any “concerns” he has about where people are going to (or not) in the after-life. He gets to hold whatever convictions he has, but he doesn’t get to push them on others. Period. Like I said, this is not a discussion about the merits (or lack thereof) of his beliefs. But “It is not within the scope of your employment to dictate people’s personal practices, even if it’s based in sincerely held religious beliefs.” Said with a tone of “Why on earth would you even THINK that this kind of thing is appropriate at work?!”

        For your risk averse HR, point out that allowing him to tell people that they are going to hell, or trying to get management to police people based on his religious convictions is far more risky than shutting this down – even from a religious freedom perspective. Because employers are not allowed to impose religious restrictions / behavior on people (with some exceptions, but none that are relevant here.) What makes it even more risky is that he’s likely to want to forbid things that other religions require, or other religions / religious practices because those people are “going to hell”, too.

        2. He needs to keep his opinions about who is going to hell, who is sinful, etc. to himself. Again, this is not about his right to his opinions, the the merits thereof. This is STRICTLY about his ability to express them. And, no, his employer is NOT required to give him a platform. This needs to be an across-the-board rule. As others have noted, you have no idea who is hearing this and being hurt by this.

        For your risk averse HR, point out that if this guy is not reigned in, you are taking two legal risks. One is that his behavior could easily be seen as a component of a legal “hostile workplace.” Secondly, if people see and hear this, and see that nothing is being done, that created a perception that going to HR or using whatever path is laid out to handle harassment and/or discrimination is not useful. Which could be an issue even if no one ever sues over this guy’s behavior – someone could argue that “I never went to management over my issues because I knew that they wouldn’t do anything about it.” And they might not win the case, but it WILL make things more expensive for you.

        3. No need for hypotheticals. But do put him on notice that if (or when) someone he doesn’t “approve” or gets hired, he’s going to have to behave himself. Don’t leave him any room to “discuss” or argue. Just an “fyi” kind of notification. And find out from your HR how to manage the situation if he really can’t reign it in. I mean in the sense of how do you escalate the discipline to the firing point.

      3. Kel*

        I admire you being proactive and protecting your employees who would have to interact with this person in the future.

  62. Seacalliope*

    I have to say, I think this is extremely naive advice. SCOTUS is overtly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community and has a very expansive view of specifically conservative religious rights. While the current law should shield LW’s org if they had to fire this employee for misgendering other employees, there is a well-oiled apparatus for funding lawsuits specifically to empower conservative religious causes. I think consulting with a lawyer is the best course here, not assuming that the law will stay the same or that you won’t become the test case that changes it.

    1. anna*

      We can only be governed under the law as it stands. We do not need to act under non-existent laws that we fear we will have in the future.

    2. Rainy*

      I think it’s time for you to brush up on Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3 and Article 1, Section 10 of the US Constitution.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        This seems an overly argumentative response. Seacalliope makes a good point that any construction of the Supreme Court changes the rulings they make. You and I (and possibly Seacalliope) might agree on an interpretation of the US Constitution, but if SCOTUS disagrees, then that’s the law of the land.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            It was the part where you wrote, “I think it’s time for you to brush up on . . . “

            1. Rainy*

              But…it is. If you don’t know that the US Constitution explicitly says “no ex post facto laws”, you need to brush up on your Constitution knowledge.

              I don’t understand your objection.

    3. metadata minion*

      I am very tired of arguments saying we should allow bigotry because pushing back might result in more bigotry. Letting his views stand is giving up without even trying to fight. And it’s assuming there will *be* a fight rather than yet another dude yelling about being Terribly Oppressed on the internet.

  63. ChrisH*

    I’m pretty sure the Bible doesn’t say anything about pronouns. It does have a lot to say about compassion.

  64. DJ Abbott*

    This is an example of the paradox of tolerance, which points out that if intolerance is tolerated, it spreads and grows. Tolerating this man’s intolerance would enable his intolerance and harm everyone around him with the hostile environment he creates.

    Also, this attitude is not new. I’ve been seeing it all my life, having grown up in a fundamentalist area. They claim it’s religion, but it’s actually a way of forcing their beliefs on others. It should never have been tolerated, and we have to do better going forward.

  65. Coverage Associate*

    Not that anyone has said otherwise, but there’s no reason for an employer to out transgender people who pass, so the issue only comes up for pronoun changes, non-binary pronouns, and new pronouns. As mentioned, this employee may already work with transgender people who pass, and would object to using their preferred gender pronouns if he knew, but the employee doesn’t know, and the employer shouldn’t tell him.

    Even my very conservative church made that decision when leadership learned that our cantor was transgender.

  66. noname12345678*

    Why are you having this hypothetical conversation with your employee? You already know how your employee feels. Drop the conversation, drop the topic, and if you hire someone trans or nonbinary, let your employee quit as he said he would. You’re making problems and unnecessary drama for yourself, your company, and this employee where none needs to be right now. It’s not your job to police your employees’ thoughts.

    1. Lavender*

      OP isn’t trying to police their employee’s thoughts. They’re asking how to manage an employee who has openly stated a desire to discriminate against marginalized people in the office. That’s a huge issue, and not a hypothetical one. For all he knows, there could already be trans or nonbinary people in the office–you can’t always tell by looking, and not everyone chooses to be out at work.

      Calling out bigotry isn’t “causing unnecessary drama”–for me, my employer’s decision to address this or not would be the difference between a safe working environment and potentially having to quit.

      1. Boof*

        The fact they are already debating this with the employee when they haven’t even introduced someone with different pronouns is a red flag that this employee is wayyyy too open about how much they disapprove of LGBTQ in the office
        Like why is this even coming up

    2. Rainy*

      It sounds like the employee volunteered his opinion about transfolk, and the LW was like, uh, if someone trans works with us you need to be respectful, not that the LW was like “Speaking of TPS reports, Precambrian McTroglodyte, you need to be respectful of transfolk.”

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      No one is policing thoughts. This silly argument comes up a lot, and it’s really not what’s happening. I can think some policy or decision my employers make is wrongheaded–or just plain wrong–and no one will penalize me for that. Because there is no ‘thought police’. What employers (and other people) care about is how we act.

      LW is trying to get clear on how to address the issue with her employee if and when the situation does arise. This is a legitimate question, and a good reason to seek advice.

      1. Dinwar*

        There are ample non-discriminatory examples of this. I have strong objections to many of the safety requirements we have to follow, for example. I’ve argued against them with safety managers–some are pointless, some fail to understand the realities of field work, and some are flat-out dangerous (and I can document it). But when the discussion is done and I’m giving my safety briefings, I’m pushing those rules just as hard as I push any others. In that moment I am not Dinwar, private citizen; I am in fact the representative of the company, and am obliged to train my staff on the company-approved safety policies and procedures, full stop.

        In the same way, you can have whatever feelings you have about race, sex, gender, relationships, whatever. When you are working as an employee of the company you are obliged to follow the rules and procedures approved by that company, full stop. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

    4. Boof*

      I agree except I think the last sentence; the fact the employee is sharing their disapproving thoughts is a problem already in the workplace. Manager needs to make it clear they either stop sharing these “thoughts” around the office or quit now. (hopefully they have the power to do that)

        1. Boof*

          It’s kind of interesting in context of the next set of letters; what LW absolutely should NOT do is go up to employees they happen to know have religious connections and preemptively ask them if they’re willing to treat LGBTQ respectively. Either LW is giving a general education/sensitivity training to everyone regardless of religion (or lack thereof) or they’re only reacting to people who say something that’s transphobic; should NOT target people for LGBTQ sensitivity evaluation because of religious identity alone

          1. Observer*

            This is true. And if the OP started the conversation with him simply because of his religious affiliation, that’s a problem and something they should be careful of, going forward.

            The thing is, though, that the OP is not required to ignore the information that they have. And in addition to what he said in his last meeting on the matter with the OP, the OP says that he has “expressed concern with coworkers using the Lord’s name in vain” which is not the end of the world, but I can’t help being taken aback that “He’s told management that he worries his coworkers will go to hell because of that” That’s really a bit much.

            He’s also communicated with managers about his beliefs in this regard. The OP cannot simply pretend that this didn’t happen and they don’t know about it.

            1. Boof*

              Yep, I agree. I just had originally assumed LW was having this debate because coworker was making at least some anti-LGBTQ comments, which would need to be shut down now, then was trying to figure out how much only came up because managers specifically asked them because of their religion, which well, maybe coworker really is keeping it under wraps unless explicitly asked and while I certainly wouldn’t want to personally hang with them that’s probably an acceptable bar for work

    5. Appletini*

      This isn’t about his thoughts. It’s about what he has said and what he has said his actions will be. He could have kept his mouth shut and no one would know his thoughts — speaking is not a free action (in gaming terms).

    6. Solomoning*

      Nope! You cannot allow someone to keep being openly transphobic in the workplace until someone who is out as trans and uses certain pronouns is hired. You have no idea whether anyone already working there is trans and just not out. This is discriminatory, bigoted, transphobic behavior and it needs to be stopped ASAP.

      And stop with the “thought policing” nonsense, it’s a clear indicator that you are not engaging in good faith.

    7. Kel*

      LW indicated this person has been open about their views, and that there are trans and non-binary employees there already. This is taking action against an unsafe environment.

    8. Irish Teacher*

      It’s highly unlikely he would actually quit though. More likely, he would keep deadnaming them and using the wrong pronouns.

      Also, it sounds like he is bringing up the topic or is at least inserting his opinion any time it comes up, which could be hurtful if he either had a colleague he didn’t know what non-binary or trans or who had loved ones who were.

      1. Observer*

        It’s highly unlikely he would actually quit though. More likely, he would keep deadnaming them and using the wrong pronouns.

        At which point the OP should be able to fire him, if they have been documenting and have everything lined up.

        What people SAY they will do and what they WILL do are not the same thing, so it’s not unreasonable to give him a chance. On the other hand, it is ALSO not unreasonable of the OP to keep an extra eye on this guy and be ready to move immediately if necessary.

  67. Cee S*

    This older employee is likely to complain other “modern” things at the workplace at well. The DEI initiatives could be just one of them.

    1. Veryanon*

      Yup. You just know this guy doesn’t think women should be working and that he probably won’t meet with any woman privately because *reasons.*

  68. LilPinkSock*

    I’m seeing some mental gymnastics here of people trying to explain why Bigot Coworker should be excused from using appropriate pronouns. Not cool.

    LW, the bigot has made it clear that they’ll quit if forced to behave appropriately. Toe the line and let the trash take itself out.

  69. Boof*

    Ummm, you don’t even have a trans coworker [that you know of] and already he is “very forthright with me about his opinion of LGTBQAI2+ people based on his conservative religious beliefs” and are debating how to handle hypothetical pronouns? Noooo to much work / why is this guy’s religion already all over the office like this? He’s probably already making a hostile work environment. Politely but firmly tell him he can think whatever but he needs to be respectful of coworkers and not treat anyone differently because of protected characteristics. And this isn’t open to debate anywhere in the office. If you have the power, actually warn him and potentially fire him if he can’t possibly not make people around him aware that he disapproves of LGBTQ+ / thinks they are sinners etc.

  70. Ebar*

    There’s a who-ha here in Ireland for past six months on something along these lines. A teacher got fired and jailed for contempt of court for his public objections to being asked to refer to a pupil by different pronouns.

    It is still rumbling through the courts and yes, that is an EXTREMELY cut down version.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Yes, I was thinking of that while reading this. The latest, for those who aren’t getting it on their media on a near-daily basis is that the judge in the case literally buried his head in his hands and told the teacher “you’d try the patience of Job.” This…may not have been a great idea, as I think the mention of a character from scripture started him off on some lecture about the Old Testament. Anyway, he was kicked out of the court.

      Thankfully, most situations won’t get that ridiculous (even the Westboro Baptist Church have declared this guy is taking things too far) but it still is indicative of why you don’t want bigots working for you.

  71. Seashell*

    He probably also thinks Jews/Muslims/Buddhists/atheists/etc. are all going to hell, so can he speak to them without bringing up Jesus and trying to save their souls?

  72. Nazmazh*

    Well, he’s said this is a hill he’s willing to die on. I say, let him. And good riddance.

    Just make sure you’ve documented all the conversations about how he’s not allowed to be a bigot and his religion doesn’t give him any special permissions. That way, if he tries to make a whole thing out of it and sue or something, you’ve got your bases covered.

    Of course, he could just end up joining the long line of grifters bemoaning that the world doesn’t let them discriminate anymore and that it’s all *definitely* some sort of conspiracy and like-minded folk should just give them money so they can shout from the rooftops about how unfair their situation is.

    (I may or may not have a particularly strong distaste for this kind of person, grifter and non-grifter variety both).

  73. Newbie101*

    ONE person with an Orthodox Jewish family chiming in here. My mum brought this up unprompted one day, I don’t remember what we were discussing. She shared her own view that protecting someone’s dignity and respecting them is a Torah law, and that referring to someone by their chosen name and pronouns doesn’t have to mean anything more than respecting then for how they want to be addressed. This isn’t an uncommon view in the Jewish community – and it’s literally a part of our laws. I don’t know if the person they’re writing in about is Jewish or not, and I know not every Jewish person feels the same way or acts the same way or understands gender identity the same way. Just adding my two cents.

    1. Observer*

      I’d be very surprised if this particular person is Jewish. Primarily because it’s pretty unusual for Orthodox Jews to do this kind of policing because they think people will go to hell.

      1. Boof*

        I thought judaism didn’t believe in hell as a place, but at most the idea that you “understand” all the bad things that you did? Not that it’s all that relevant and I’m not jewish (probably unitarian if anything) but I found that really attractive, as I understood it

  74. Roger Wills*

    Are you sure you are accurate in your representation of the law? Is it not sex that’s protected, and still to be determined whether that extends to gender preference? Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are pretty powerful pushbacks to the policy you are claiming is required by law, and it has been successful for example, in situations where religious people refuse to participate in a gay wedding and don’t want to have to shut down their businesses or pay fines.
    I respect a company’s right to establish policies around use of preferred pronouns, but I don’t agree with forcing people to say words that they believe to be untrue. Is a transgender person’s need to be affirmed by others really more important than their neighbor’s rights to practice their religion and not be compelled to speak words they don’t believe in? Recall that we don’t compel anyone to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag out of respect for free speech. Is it really just to cause someone to lose their job because they believe sex is unchangeable, whether for religions reasons or not? I believe tolerance and respect for diversity should go two ways, not just one. Request, educate, and set a good example and you will win more people over than forcing people to, in their minds and hearts, lie.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, I am sure. The Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination in employment necessarily includes sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      Trans people are very frequently attacked for their feelings about gender, to the point where depression and suicidal ideation are some of the very worst health challenges they face. Referring to them by their chosen gender/pronouns and thus affirming their right to exist is really helpful where these issues are concerned.

    3. Kel*

      Freedom of speech is the government censoring you, not private companies.

      It isn’t my right to be affirmed, it’s my basic human right to be treated JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.

      This comment is nothing but tone policing.

    4. metadata minion*

      Are you also against workplaces forcing employees to endorse products they know are actually terrible? Freedom of speech does not apply to private employers, and employee speech is almost always at least somewhat restricted in the workplace.

    5. Appletini*

      Before you white-knight about religion please see Newbie101*’s comment right above yours. But that’s just one point in this fractally wrong screed.

    6. penny dreadful analyzer*

      Non-bigoted employees have to treat their bigoted ones with the baseline level of respect due to a coworker and fellow human even when they feel they don’t deserve it, too. I might genuinely think it’s dishonest to treat people who are members of conservative churches as if they were normal, rational adults, but I have to treat all my coworkers like adults anyway, and if I were to start baby-talking to colleagues that I found out followed what I considered an infantile belief system, I’d be out on my ass and rightfully so.

      Sucking up your personal feelings and acting civil is a baseline expectation of interacting with other people at work. Full stop.

    7. Cookie Monster*

      The thing is, this really isn’t about “winning more people over.” He can feel however he wants. What he can’t do is discriminate against his co-workers even if his religion makes him feel that this would be a problem.

      Tolerance and respect for diversity can definitely go both ways…until someone wants to illegally discriminate. There’s no reason to tolerate or respect that.

      And he wouldn’t be losing his job because he believes sex is unchangeable. He’d be losing his job for discriminating against his co-worker. It would be based on his actions, not his beliefs.

      1. Roger Wills*

        Yes, I agree he wouldn’t really be losing his job for his beliefs but his actions. Thank you for helping me see that my claim was inaccurate there. And I see your point that in the immediate context, workplaces needn’t be concerned about winning people over; they just have an interest in establishing a work environment that is legal and allows for maximum productivity according to however that is defined. I guess I launched into a bit of a philosophical reflection on how to facilitate society overall understanding and tolerating non-heteronormative gender expressions. But that is not anyone’s job or obligation, particularly workplaces.

    8. Danish*

      I don’t want to change your mind. My life ain’t a teachable moment for bigots. think whatever you want. You do have to treat me with respect tho if we’re coworkers.

    9. Lenora Rose*

      I see below that you’re thinking further about this, but I really really really REALLY get tired of people thinking that using a pronoun someone requests is about a “need to be affirmed”. It’s about plain old manners. It’s not *good manners* to tell someone every single time you see them “Hello, I think your entire identity is based on a false presumption.” and that is what deadnaming or using the wrong pronouns is doing. Your coworker probably just wants you to pass them the TPS reports so they can input the numbers into the Unobtanium contract, not debate whether their entire existence is valid.

      Similarly you can be completely convinced your coworker’s church is monstrous in all ways, but you don’t address your coworker as “Hellbound Janice”.

  75. woozles*

    It strikes me that you and this employee have been speaking openly about his homophobia and transphobia. I would recommend that you nip that in the bud right now and stop engaging in these conversations. You said you want to make a welcoming work environment, but if you’re having these conversations – and it seems not totally shutting down these comments – you could be making the workplace very unwelcoming for anyone who is privately going through something or even just does not want to be in a homophobic environment.

  76. Veryanon*

    I am not perfect, by any means, but as a non-religious person, it never fails to dismay and appall me how terrible people act toward each other in the name of some religious tenet, when you *know* that the founder of said religion wouldn’t act that way at all (looking at you, Christians). Whatever happened to just treating people with respect and dignity? Call people what they want to be called, even if you personally think it’s stupid or don’t agree with it.

  77. Jenny D*

    If he has a problem with using “them”, quote Genesis 5:2 at him.

    “Male and female created he them; and blessed them”

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