San Diego became the fifth city in the nation Tuesday to prohibit future use of “he” and “she” in city laws and policies so that transgendered people feel more welcome in the city’s government.
“Using gender-neutral language in the development of our policies is the right and just path forward,” City Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera said after a unanimous council vote. “Actions like this are about honoring the humanity of all people.”
Oakland, Berkeley, Boston and Portland have already adopted similar “inclusive language” policies regarding gender and sexual orientation. And 11 states have approved “third gender” identification cards for people who don’t identify as either male or female.
The goal is making governments more welcoming and accommodating for the roughly 1 percent of people who don’t identify as either male or female, but instead prefer to use pronouns like “they” and “their.”
Critics of such efforts say government leaders should focus their time and resources on projects and policies that affect a greater number of people in more significant ways.
National surveys have shown that just under 1 percent of U.S. residents identify as non-binary, roughly a quarter of the 4 percent to 5 percent of residents who identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Councilmember Raul Campillo, who spearheaded the new policy along with Council President Dr. Jen Campbell, said it is an important move even if it will only affect a small number of people.
“If even one more LGBTQ+ person’s well-being is improved and one less person is harmed, it will have been worth it,” he said. “While I acknowledge this is just one step toward inclusivity, I am encouraged that this action will move the city forward in addressing the need to not just promote inclusivity, but champion inclusivity.”
The gay community, including transgender people, is often the victim of hate crimes and prejudice, Campillo said.
“I want every generation of San Diegans to be able to look to their government, and read their laws, and know they are a part of it, that they are represented,” he said. “By using gendered pronouns in our policies and laws, when referring to a person or group of people, we exclude an entire set of the people we were elected to represent.”
California began offering non-binary birth certificates three years ago, and the state introduced gender-neutral driver’s licenses in 2019. In January, the U.S. House of Representatives began using non-binary, non-gendered language in official Congressional documents.
“Non-binary” refers to someone who prefers not to be known as either a man or a woman. Instead, they consider themselves in between the two genders, or not a part of any gender category at all.
Campbell, who is lesbian, praised the city’s new policy.
“This is an important step to make our city government more welcoming for all of San Diego’s people, especially those who don’t see themselves reflected in the gender binary,” she said.
Councilmember Vivian Moreno agreed.
“As we create new policies or update current ones, it’s important that they be written to ensure they are inclusive, and not exclusive, to all members of the community,” she said.
The effort is not retroactive, so gender-specific language now in place will not be changed.
The proposal requires city policies to use “they” and “their” instead of “he” and “she,” and to use words like “humankind” instead of “mankind.”
Leaders of local gay rights organizations praised the decision.
“San Diego has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ activism,” said Angela Wells, a city employee who leads the city’s LGBTQ+ & Ally Employee Resource Group. “Sadly, the same cannot be said for all cities across the U.S. During a time when trans rights are in jeopardy and hate crimes are far too prevalent, it’s imperative for a city to support, use and codify inclusive language.”
Luis Montero-Adams of the San Diego LGBT Community Center said the new policy is a key step.
“The center believes it’s important to move beyond using the binary of ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns and instead allow individuals the opportunity to confirm their name and pronouns as an individual’s pronoun description,” he said.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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