Use the wrong gender pronoun when addressing students or faculty at the University of Minnesota, and it could land you in hot water.
University officials are currently weighing a new gender identity policy that would require students, faculty and staff to refer to members of the transgender community by their preferred names and pronouns – such as he, she, "ze."
According to the new proposal, those who fail to do so could face severe disciplinary action.
"Discrimination or harassment based on gender identity or gender expression may result in appropriate responsive action, including but not limited to disciplinary action up to and including termination from employment and academic sanctions up to and including academic expulsion," a draft of the policy reads.
The proposal would also permit students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity rather than the one assigned to them at birth.
"Individuals may access gender-specific facilities that correspond with their gender identities and may participate in University activities and programs consistent with their gender identities including, but not limited to, housing, restrooms, locker rooms, recreation services and activities, and camp programs," the policy reads.
Gabrielle Mead, assistant director of the school's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office, told The Star Tribune that the goal of the new policy is to "create more access and an inclusive environment for all of our community members regardless of their gender identity."
But critics say the proposal, which has not yet been finalized, is a violation of constitutionally protected speech.
"By threatening to punish students and faculty who misuse an individual's chosen pronoun, the University of Minnesota is flirting with a dangerous tradeoff – that of sacrificing students' and faculty members' civil liberties in the name of inclusion," Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, warned.
Neily noted that members of the transgender community aren't the only ones with deeply held convictions on the issue of gender identity.
"Although some segments of the population may find those views distasteful or offensive, it doesn't change the underlying fact that expressing these views is constitutionally protected," she said.
"The University of Minnesota – a state actor – is unlikely to withstand a judicial challenge on this policy," Neily said.