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Biden admin’s gender pronoun rule for federal workers sparks debate

By Jake Beardslee · November 9, 2023

In brief…

  • HHS implemented pronoun policy based on executive orders against gender discrimination
  • Former Trump official argues policy compels speech
  • Cited First Amendment cases suggest policy might infringe on ideological freedoms
  • Advocacy groups counter that misgendering or harassing transgender colleagues should not be protected speech
A new HHS gender pronoun policy intended to increase inclusion has prompted debate.  Ted Eytan/Wikimedia

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has implemented a new policy requiring employees to address colleagues by their preferred gender pronouns, according to Roger Severino, vice president at the Heritage Foundation and former HHS civil rights chief. Severino argues this mandate could violate employee rights and lead to dismissal for misgendering.

Speaking to Fox News Digital, Severino states the policy originates from Biden executive orders against gender discrimination. HHS guidance indicates using correct names and pronouns promotes inclusive workplaces, and occasional mistakes won’t necessarily constitute harassment. However, Severino contends continual, intentional misuse may contribute to a hostile environment.

An HHS video featuring Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, confirms employees can identify how they wish. Severino claims this could make some colleagues uncomfortable. Previously, similar scenarios risked a hostile workplace, but now the burden is on co-workers to adjust, Severino argues, stating, “the policy says to the women who may be uncomfortable with that situation, they’re the ones who have to leave.”

HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm stated in a video for the organization that the policy guarantees “that our colleagues are able to show up every day as their whole selves.” 

Severino argues that precedents like West Virginia v. Barnette show the First Amendment protects federal workers from compelled speech or ideologies they disagree with. He claims some employees now face a difficult choice between staying silent or speaking up and risking retaliation, which could negatively impact workplace morale. Advocacy groups counter that misgendering or harassing transgender colleagues should not be protected speech, and inclusive policies benefit employee wellbeing and productivity.