State Department Offers Counseling To Misgendered Employees Triggered By Email Pronoun Debacle

'I deeply regret the confusion and distress this mistake caused our workforce'

(Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters)
May 19, 2023

The State Department will offer counseling to any employee "who feels hurt or upset" by a system-wide email glitch that temporarily assigned random and often incorrect gender pronouns to staff.

The State Department is offering free therapy to "any employee who feels hurt or upset as a result of this unfortunate mistake," according to an internal email that went out to employees on Friday. Many State Department employees were "triggered" on Thursday, when emails from colleagues suddenly began to include random pronouns, like, "She/her/hers" and "He/Him/His" in the "from" line.

The pronouns were randomly assigned, with men being given female pronouns and vice versa, due to a "pronoun glitch" in the department’s system, the Washington Free Beacon first reported.

Those upset by the misgendering are encouraged to contact the State Department’s Employee Consultation Service "to speak to a professional counselor."

"I want to stress that the intent behind making this feature available is to make our systems more inclusive and provide employees with options—not to make decisions for them," Kelly E. Fletcher, the State Department’s chief information officer, wrote in the email. "I recognize that this error had the opposite effect, and again, I am very sorry."

Fletcher informed staffers that the State Department is "testing a new feature that will provide users with the option to include their preferred pronouns in their Global Address List profile."

"During the test," she wrote, "the feature inadvertently went live, and a large number of employees had randomly assigned pronouns added to their profiles."

In the future, employees will have the choice to pick their preferred pronouns.

"I deeply regret the confusion and distress this mistake caused our workforce," Fletcher wrote.

The system-wide glitch is not expected to be completely fixed until Saturday.

State Department employees expressed shock and confusion by Thursday’s pronoun incident, with one source telling the Free Beacon, "This is distracting from the work that we are actually supposed to be doing. A lot of people here have been triggered today."

Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee raised the issue during the department's daily briefing, calling the mishap "ridiculous."

"This is not an optional thing," Lee said. "But the problem is that a lot of them or at least some of them so far, as I’ve been able to tell, are wrong! They’re giving the wrong pronouns! So men are being identified as women and women as men. It's ridiculous."