MS Society forces 90-year-old volunteer to step down for misunderstanding trans pronouns

Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash
Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is standing by its decision to dismiss a 90-year-old volunteer after she reportedly expressed confusion about her colleague signing emails with their pronouns, claiming that the woman violated its diversity, equity and inclusion guidelines. 

Fran Itkoff, a California resident, volunteered for the National MS Society for 60 years. Itkoff’s late husband, who had MS, previously ran the Long Beach Lakewood MS support group, which she took over after he died.

The National MS Society directed all media inquiries to a statement it released last Thursday, in which the organization outlined its mission of supporting people with MS, which includes creating “a space that welcomes all.”

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The organization added that its self-help group leaders play a part in this by leading meetings for people with MS. 

“Recently, a volunteer, Fran Itkoff, was asked to step away from her role because of statements that were viewed as not aligning with our policy of inclusion,” the nonprofit stated. “Fran has been a valued member of our volunteer team for more than 60 years. We believe that our staff acted with the best of intentions and did their best to navigate a challenging issue.”

“As an organization, we are in a continued conversation about assuring that our diversity, equity and inclusion policies evolve in service of our mission, and will reach out to Fran in service of this goal,” the statement concluded. 

In an interview earlier this month with Libs of Tiktok’s Chaya Raichik, Itkoff shared her side of the story alongside her daughter, Elle Hamilton. According to Itkoff, a colleague asked her to use her pronouns, but the 90-year-old did not understand the request. 

“I had seen it on a couple of letters that had come in after the person’s name. But I didn’t know what it meant,” Itkoff told Raichik. 

“So when I finally talked to her, I asked what it meant … and she said that meant they were all-inclusive, which didn’t make sense to me,” she continued. “Because it sounds like you are labeling for females, not males if you are just putting in she/her.”

Following the interaction, Itkoff received an email asking her to “step down” as a volunteer, according to a screenshot of the email shared during the Libs of TikTok interview.

The National MS Society informed Itkoff that the nonprofit will no longer affiliate with the Lakewood/Long Beach Self-Help Group; however, the group is free to continue meeting independently from the organization. 

“We appreciate your dedication and contribution as a Self-Help Group Leader with our organization. As we discussed earlier during a phone conversation, after a thorough review of our guidelines and standards, it has come to our attention that there has been a failure to abide by Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion guidelines during your time as a volunteer,” the email stated. 

Itkoff said she was “shocked” after she read the email, telling Raichik that she had to read it a few times to make sure it said what she thought. Itkoff’s daughter accused the National MS Society of focusing too much on “pronouns,” adding that the organization has “lost their focus on finding a cure for MS and helping the patients.” 

“It’s sad that they are discriminating against her because MS doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody to get the disease, and yet they are discriminating against her just because she asked a question to explain what the pronouns were,” Hamilton said, claiming that her elderly mother is not “street savvy.” 

Hamilton also stated that she found it “ironic” that the National MS Society claimed it is being “inclusive” when the organization is excluding a 90-year-old disabled woman, stressing that volunteering has been her mother’s “whole life.” 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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