Another pronoun case has come to a successful end for a challenger. We previously discussed a settlement with a Shawnee State professor over a pronoun dispute. We also discussed similar cases filed in Ohio, Utah, and other states over “misgendering.” Now Montana State University student Daria Danley has agreed to a settlement with the university after lengthy litigation. However, the position of MSU remains unclear on how it will police pronoun offenders in the future.
Danley is an Alpha Gamma Delta member who was found to have violated her sorority’s pronoun rule and a “no contact” order was issued in September 2021 by the university. The order prevented her from attending events or even entering a building where a LGBTQ sorority student was present.
Danley sued MSU, its president and director of the Office of Institutional Equity, along with the commissioner of higher education.
While Danley’s counsel claimed victory in the settlement, MSU insisted that it merely
“accepted this settlement as a conciliatory mechanism to best serve the interests of our students. Rather than engaging in protracted litigation and a public debate of this matter, we have taken steps to allow the involved students to return to the privacy of their normal lives and to focus on their education.”
That leaves some doubt as to what is being settled. The university was referring to settling the matter with “the involved students” but not that it was ending its no-contact orders or pronoun sanctions. The uncertainly over that position is curious since, in 2017, MSU had to pay a $120,000 settlement with then-student Erik Powell after he was suspended for criticizing a transgender student to a professor in a private meeting.
MSU elected to litigate this case for a couple years at a cost to both itself and the student. Yet, it is not clear if it is making any changes in its pronoun policies for other students or staff.
Across the country, universities are ramping up misgendering rules for faculty and students. The most recent is Point Park University in Pittsburgh, which notified students that its Office of Equity and Inclusion will enforce rules against misgendering, pronoun misuse and deadnaming for individuals who do not use their classmates’ preferred pronouns. The university sent an email to students that states “any individual who has been informed of another person’s gender identity, pronouns, or chosen name is expected to respect that individual.” Students were informed that using the wrong pronoun was a violation and “action could be taken.”
Many have no objection to using a student’s preferred pronouns. Indeed, many faculty members try to avoid using pronouns altogether in class, rather than look up a student’s designated pronoun. Confirming the right pronouns can be challenging in the middle of a fast-moving class. Students today identify from a growing list of gender identities including, but not limited to, genderfluid, third-gender, amalgagender, demigender, bi-gender, pansgender, and a-gender. Pronouns can include, but are not limited to: He/She, They/Them, Ze/Hir (Ze, hir, hir, hirs, hirself), Ze/Zir (Ze, zir, zir, zirs, ze), Spivak (Ey, em, eir, eirs, ey), Ve (Ve, ver, vis, vis, verself), and Xe (Xe, xem, xyr, xyrs, xe).
Pronouns are fast fading from common discourse under the threat of pronoun penalties. Cities, too, are enforcing misgendering rules; for example, the New York City Human Rights Law allows for fines if employers, landlords or professionals fail to use a preferred name, pronoun or title.
Yet some people have religious beliefs against following the new order and using such pronouns. As a result, there are serious free-speech and religious-freedom objections to mandatory usage rules.