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Canadian tribunal rules that not using one’s preferred pronouns is a human rights offense

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Not using someone’s preferred pronouns in Canada could land offenders in hot water, slapped with a human rights offense following a Canadian tribunal ruling over an employment dispute.

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favor of a former restaurant server at Buono Osteria in British Columbia named Jessie Nelson, who is biologically female but identifies as nonbinary in their wrongful termination suit. The ruling also landed Nelson a $30,000 payout from their former employer.

Instead of being called “she” or “her”, Nelson requested that fellow employees use the identifiers “they” and “them” when referencing Nelson.

An apparent issue arose when former colleague Brian Gobelle, who’s age was not disclosed, did not call Nelson by their preferred pronouns and occasionally used nicknames in reference to them.

No, these nicknames are probably not what you are thinking. Gobelle frequently referred to Nelson using what they deemed to be gendered nicknames like “sweetheart,” “honey,” and “pinky”– a reference to Nelson’s pink hair– the tribunal’s ruling said.

Nelson did ask Gobelle to stop, however, their request was ignored so they took it straight to management who declined to intervene immediately.

Nelson took things into their own hands and confronted Gobelle in what became a heated conversation according to the tribunal. During the conversation, Nelson touched Gobelle’s shoulder and called him “sweetheart”,  CBC News reported.

Wow, so very heated.

The nonbinary server was fired four days later for coming on “too strong and too fast” and being too “militant.”

The 42-page decision by the tribunal details the work environment at Buono Osteria and the fellow employees who either respected Nelson’s pronouns or disregarded their requests.

“Like a name, pronouns are a fundamental part of a person’s identity. They are a primary way that people identify each other. Using correct pronouns communicates that we see and respect a person for who they are. Especially for trans, non‐binary, or other non‐cisgender people, using the correct pronouns validates and affirms they are a person equally deserving of respect and dignity,” tribunal member Devyn Cousineau wrote in the decision.

Nelson viewed the case as part of the fight for transgender equality.

“I am here today in bringing this forward because it is important for me, as a trans person, to have my existence respected. I’m a human being with a beating heart and a desire to be seen and valued and heard in the world. And I’m also here for every other current and future trans or queer person working in a service or customer-facing setting so that hopefully this doesn’t happen anymore. Because it’s a lot. It’s very draining. And we deserve to live and have joy and be respected for who we are,” Nelson said in their testimony.

Cousineau found that the managers of the restaurant were committed to creating an inclusive environment for all of their employees, but that they did not address Nelson’s claims with any sense of urgency.

“There is a clear connection between Jessie Nelson’s gender identity and their termination. They were terminated because of how they responded to discrimination. They were held to a higher standard of conduct than Mr. Gobelle, and the discriminatory context of the dispute was ignored,” Cousineau wrote.

The tribunal ordered Buono Osteria implement a pronoun policy and mandatory human rights training.

Gender-neutral policies have garnered favor around the western world lately, not just in Canada.

In a ridiculous move, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged “pregnant people” to get vaccinated against COVID-19, so as not to exclude pregnant men– a scientific impossibility.

Last year, the United Nations reminded member states to adopt gender-neutral language.

While many in Canada favor the tribunal’s decision, not everyone agrees:

Kay Apfel

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