University of Minnesota’s policy on gender identity, gender expression, names, and pronouns
In January 2019, the University of Minnesota issued a draft policy on gender identity, expression, and pronouns that outlined the right of all to use the names and pronouns that fit their gender identities. The policy also outlined the broader university community’s responsibilities in addressing nonbinary peers. While many saw the policy as a step toward greater inclusion of trans and gender nonconforming individuals, others were concerned that it could have the unintentional effect of policing language. Early drafts of the policy stated that violations of the policy that constituted discrimination or harassment based on gender identity or gender expression could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination from employment or expulsion. After receiving criticism that it may have a chilling effect on speech, the university removed this section from the policy. The emphasis was instead placed on education, offering guidance and protocols for how pronoun policies should work in practice. However, an FAQ document about the implementation made clear that while the policy was not intended to punish people for their language, consistent, willful, and malicious misuse of pronouns that is intended to degrade or humiliate may constitute discrimination or harassment and as such is not protected speech.
What we like about this policy
- Affirms the university’s commitment to creating an inclusive learning environment for all its students, regardless of identity.
- Places the emphasis on education, not punishment. This allows the policy to function not as a punitive document that compels a certain type of speech but rather as a suggestive one that encourages mutual respect.
- Clearly distinguishes between punishment for using certain language and punishment for discrimination and harassment, which do not constitute protected speech.