LGBTQ advocates criticized Elon Musk on Thursday after the Twitter owner said he would allow users to freely misgender people on the social media site.
In a tweet on the first day of Pride Month, Musk said he personally uses the pronouns that someone – including a transgender person – prefers because it’s good manners, but that he wouldn’t enforce that policy on Twitter.
Musk made the comment in a reply to a complaint from Jeremy Boreing, the co-CEO of the conservative site The Daily Wire. Boreing, who was seeking to distribute a video opposed to trans rights but said Twitter had canceled a distribution deal, said he considered it a free speech issue to not be able to use pronouns that are different from the ones a trans person uses.
“It is definitely allowed,” Musk told Boreing. “Whether or not you agree with using someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is at most rude and certainly breaks no laws.”
Musk said Twitter employees who told Boreing otherwise had made a mistake.
In culture war battles online and off, using pronouns other than what someone prefers is a common way to bully trans people. Twitter banned the practice as part of its rule against degrading behavior or other hateful content until April, when the company’s new management under Musk quietly changed the rule without an official announcement. The rule had been in place since 2018.
Musk’s latest statement drew a rebuke from LGBTQ organizations, which said the new policy opened a door for anti-trans harassment.
“Twitter was once a place where many marginalized people including LGBTQ people found community, and it’s become hostile,” Laurel Powell, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a phone interview.
“What we’re seeing isn’t really about censorship or discrimination of ideas. It’s about the kind of company Twitter wants to be and the kind of world they want to shape,” she said.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Musk’s tweet was disappointing.
“This will only increase hate speech that has harmed our community within social media spaces,” he said in a statement.
Heng-Lehtinen said lives may be at risk, citing a 2020 survey from The Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention. Transgender and nonbinary youth who said that all or most people in their lives respect their pronouns attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected, according to the survey.
Musk has a history of staking out anti-trans positions. In tweets, he has mocked trans people and accused trans rights advocates of contradicting themselves. Last month, he participated in a Twitter event to launch the Republican presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signed several bills restricting LGBTQ rights. A year ago, one of Musk’s children filed a petition to change her name and have her gender officially recognized as female, saying she didn’t want to be related to Musk in any way.
Musk elaborated on his current thinking in his Thursday tweet.
“I should note that I do personally use someone’s preferred pronouns, just as I use someone’s preferred name, simply from the standpoint of good manners,” he said.
“However, for the same reason, I object to rude behavior, ostracism or threats of violence if the wrong pronoun or name is used,” he added.
GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy organization, said the earlier Twitter rule existed to protect people from harassment and to reassure advertisers who don’t wish their ads to be featured adjacent to bullying.
“Elon Musk continues to double down on making his already struggling site less safe for users, and even less appealing for advertisers,” the organization said in a statement.