July 23rd, 2019 – Berkeley, California is again leading the charge in inclusivity by passing a law banning gendered language from city codes. The ordinance was unanimously passed last week and will includes changes such as “manhole” to “maintenance hole” and “manpower” to “human effort.”
Council member Rigel Robinson introduced, and authored, the ordinance back in March with details coming together without much pushback. He said it passed without discussion or comments and was not controversial and added that it was simply the next logical step in “broadening societal awareness of transgender and gendernonconforming identities.”
“There’s power in language,” Robinson said. “This is a small move, but it matters. It is both timely and necessary to make the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.”
The new Berkeley ordinance issued a fairly expansive list of “gendered terms commonly found in existing code” along with the “non-gendered term replacement” to now be used.
“Brother” and “sister” will now be replaced with “siblings.” “Policeman” and “policewoman” will be changed to “police officers.” And “sorority” and “fraternity” will be replaced with “collegiate greek system residence.”
In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB179, also known as the Gender Recognition Act, into law which lets those who identify as non-binary make that selection on driver’s licenses and birth certificates. Following that rule, Berkeley’s new ordinance will abolish gender-specific pronouns opting for “they” instead of “he” or “she.”
While the lead-up to these changes didn’t set off any alarms, city hall was bombarded with complaints following passage of the ordinance. Councilmember Lori Droste told The New York Times she was surprised by the amount of calls and emails coming in to City Hall from constituents expressing their criticism.
Some other representatives shared in concern from the public when it came to potential road bumps with the new language. The worry remains that using plural pronouns to refer to singular people or causes will allow for misinterpretation and potential legal problems.
Despite the worry, City Hall believes the focus should be on human inclusivity rather than political correctness or the English language. The ordinance was originally crafted to send a message that the city of Berkeley will offer equal chances and representation for everyone.
“Your gender has no relevance in whether you can perform work and receive services,” Droste said. “Women and nonbinary folks are just as entitled to accurate representation.”
Give us your thoughts about Berkeley’s new gender-neutral city ordinance!