Referring to people as "ze" and "zir" intead of "he" and "she" sounded wackily amusing when college diversity officers were advising it in the name of "gender neutrality."
But now, the weirdly slurred personal pronouns have become a matter of New York City law under the Bill de Blasio administration, at least as interpreted by the city's Commission on Human Rights. Which means that those who goof and say "she" when the person in question prefers "ze" may well have to pay a fine.
[T]he New York City Commission on Human Rights is demanding that employers, landlords, professionals and “all businesses” …ask people their preferred gender pronoun from their first interaction.
The “legal guidance” in part:
a. Intentional or repeated refusal to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun or title. For example, repeatedly calling a transgender woman “him” or “Mr.” after she has made clear which pronouns and title she uses …
Covered entities may avoid violations of the [New York City Human Rights Law] by creating a policy of asking everyone what their preferred gender pronoun is so that no individual is singled out for such questions and by updating their systems to allow all individuals to self-identify their names and genders. They should not limit the options for identification to male and female only.
UCLA constitutional-law professor Eugene Volokh, writing in the Washington Post, writes that since the commission has the power to fine "covered entities" for violations:
So people can basically force us — on pain of massive legal liability — to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie. …
We have to call people “him” and “her” even if we believe that people’s genders are determined by their biological sex and not by their self-perceptions — perceptions that, by the way, can rapidly change, for those who are “gender-fluid” — and that using terms tied to self-perception is basically a lie….
[H]arassment law requires employers and businesses to prevent harassment by co-workers and patrons and not just by themselves or their own employees; this is particularly well established for harassment by co-workers, but it has also been accepted for harassment by fellow patrons. So an employer or business that learns that its employees or patrons are “refus[ing] to use a transgender employee’s preferred” pronoun or title would have to threaten to fire or eject such people unless they comply with the City’s demands.
The implication:If you're a Gotham business, make sure your customers are on "ze" board with weird gender-neutral pronouns tha most people have never heard of–or else.