Viewpoints

The truth about State Senate Judiciary Committee’s use of gender pronouns

A pride flag and the American flag hang over the Sacramento LGBT Community Center in midtown Sacramento.
A pride flag and the American flag hang over the Sacramento LGBT Community Center in midtown Sacramento. Sacramento Bee file photo

If something sounds untrue, it may very well be.

When the California State Senate Judiciary Committee announced that its internal rules would be written in gender-neutral language, no one expected the blowback that would follow. The small change, using “they” instead of “he or she” in the committee’s bylaws, ignited a firestorm as conservative blogs, Fox News pundits, and columnists falsely reported that the committee had unilaterally banned gender pronouns.

The story was excellent clickbait and perpetuated a convenient “crazy California” narrative. But it was entirely false. The committee rules did not ban language in any form. All are welcome to refer to themselves using whatever language corresponds with their gender identity.

Now, we could go on about the state of fake conservative news today and complain that none of these outlets checked to verify facts before publishing — a seemingly more common occurrence today — but we’d rather talk about the reasons behind the change and how it reflects California’s values of inclusivity.

As a legislative body, our committee’s rules and laws apply to all of our residents. When we use gender-specific language, we are leaving out those who do not identify as he or she. California has the highest population of LGBTQ people in the United States and as such, we have a responsibility to ensure our laws reflect the tremendous diversity of our state.

Opinion

Our state has long been a national leader in LGBTQ rights. We’ve passed significant legislation to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination as they seek housing, employment, and attend public schools. Many states look to our leadership as they craft their own anti-discrimination policies. Using gender-neutral language in our laws is the natural next step but it’s frankly not enough.

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Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson

Scott Wiener - crop
Sen. Scott Wiener Credit: Lorie Leilani Shelley

CNN recently reported that the number of transphobic murders is on the rise, and our heroic trans soldiers have been banned from serving their country for no reason other than hateful bias. Transgender individuals continue to face tremendous harassment and social stigma throughout our country. We must do more to protect this community from hate.

The Judiciary Committee’s move to use inclusive language was not done in a vacuum. It was based on guidance from the Office of Legislative Counsel and follows Assembly Concurrent Resolution 260, authored by the Chair Emeritus of the Legislative LGBT Caucus last year to encourage the Legislature to use inclusive language with gender-neutral pronouns or by re-using nouns to avoid gendered pronouns.

It also follows guidance from a number of states’ own legislation drafting manuals, such as Connecticut, Montana and North Dakota. On top of that, according to ACR 160, certain writing style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, have recently accepted the use of “they” as a singular pronoun in certain cases.

Language matters. It shapes our understanding of the world, promotes social norms and has the power to perpetuate biases. When we use inclusive language in our Legislature’s rules, rights and laws, we are sending a message to all of our residents that they deserve to be treated with dignity, equality and respect.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson represents California’s 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County. She is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Scott Wiener represents California’s 11th Senate District and is the Chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.
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