Minnesota state worker files complaint over being forced to be ‘he’ or ‘she,’ instead of ‘they’
State of Minnesota human resources only allows ‘male’ or ‘female.’ But a worker wants gender ‘X,’ already available on driver’s licenses.
ST. PAUL — A Minnesota government employee has filed a formal complaint against the state over being forced to identify as male or female.
The 39-year-old information technology specialist goes by the gender-neutral “they,” an increasingly visible practice to which employers are still adjusting.
What Kristin Brietzke wants is a third option beyond “female” or “male”: “X” — which became available on Minnesota driver’s licenses beginning in 2018.
“We’ve had the ability to choose gender ‘X’ for driver’s licenses since 2018, but in order to be employed by the state of Minnesota, you have to be male or female,” said Brietzke, who filed the complaint with the state Department of Human Rights on Oct. 29.
Brietzke, who has been active for years in advocating for those who don’t identify as either male or female, founded a statewide network called “MNclusive” for employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual and who similarly don’t ascribe to the binary notion of gender and said reports from colleagues have helped illuminate their experiences.
“I’m not the only nonbinary state employee,” Brietzke said, noting that younger professionals are more likely to identify as nonbinary or expect an HR department to acknowledge that some workers do.
The degree to which state employees feel included and respected can vary from agency to agency in state government, said Brietzke, who who works in MNIT, the state IT agency, providing software training for Department of Human Services workers. For their part, Brietzke said, “MNIT has been quite good and quite welcoming — aside from the fact that my employer demands I identify in a way that might be different from my driver’s license.”
It’s unclear how far along the state is in considering a change to allow for another gender choice for their workers. A spokesman for Minnesota Management and Budget, the agency that acts as HR for the state, on Monday, Nov. 1, said officials had yet to review the complaint and didn’t provide further comment.
In the tail end of the administration of former Gov. Mark Dayton, a proposal at the Legislature would have mandated the driver’s license change. Brietzke was among those who supported it. But it was rendered irrelevant when state administrators on their own decided to add gender “X” to driver’s licenses as part of a revamp of licenses to accommodate federal Real ID security requirements. Since then, the Department of Human Services has allowed applicants to at least some of their programs to identify as neither female nor male. And just last week, the U.S. State Department issued its first passport with an “X” gender designation .
John Lesch, a former state lawmaker and attorney for Brietzke, said there have been indications that the state is open to the idea of updating its HR protocols.
“Like any large bureaucracy, I guess, there’s been pushback,” he said, agreeing with the characterization of Brietzke’s complaint as an attempt to nudge the state to make the change.
Based on accounts of colleagues around the state, Brietzke said that a common ramification of HR lacking an option for people who identify as “they” is that workers find themselves being incorrectly labeled as male or female, often in emails, and then assumptions being made about that person.
Brietzke — who describes themself as “nonbinary and gender-fluid … meaning my idea of gender changes over time” — acknowledged that honest mistakes happen, as many across society are getting used to respecting those who identify as neither male nor female.
“On a day-to-day basis, the best thing you can do is be respectful with a person’s pronouns,” they said. “Practice it. It’s just like learning someone’s name that’s hard to pronounce: You practice it and it gets easier.
“I train people in (the computer language) SQL. They don’t know it at first, but in a few weeks or months, everybody can learn it. This is a pronoun.”