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State Dept. offers free therapy to personnel 'triggered' by glitch that 'misgendered' employees with wrong pronouns

JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department is offering free counseling to agency employees devastated by a new IT feature that accidentally "misgendered" some employees.

Last week, the State Department was asked about pronouns appearing in the "from" line of employee emails who did not manually add them because, in many cases, the pronouns were incorrect. As it turns out, the agency had been testing a new program that allows employees to add their "preferred pronouns" to their agency profile, but the program inadvertently went live before it was ready.

In the mix-up, the "from" line of emails randomly displayed incorrect pronouns — or at least not the ones employees chose for themselves, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

State Department sources who spoke to the Free Beacon said agency employees were "shocked and confused" by the glitch. One employee said, "A lot of people here have been triggered today."

On Friday, State Department CIO Kelly Fletcher sent a department-wide email apologizing for the mishap.

In that email, she said that "any employee who feels hurt or upset as a result of this unfortunate mistake" should contact the agency'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," Fletcher wrote in the email.

"I recognize that this error had the opposite effect, and again, I am very sorry," she added.

Fletcher explained that any profile that had been misgendered would be corrected in the IT system by Saturday. When the new pronoun system officially launches, she said employees would be given ample notice to add their "preferred pronouns" to prevent future misgendering.

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