Democrats Eliminate Gendered Language in House of Representatives

Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses the first session of the 117th Congress in Washington
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced new gender-neutral rules that she said will bring “bold” and “future-focused” change to the lower chamber.
Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Democrats in the House of Representatives approved new rules that included the removal of gendered language from the lower chamber — even as their GOP colleagues mocked them.

The House passed the new regulations by a 217 to 206 margin on January 4, three days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern of Massachusetts announced the proposal in an effort to modernize the terminology in Congress and make sessions more inclusive to people of historically marginalized genders. Pelosi described the changes as “bold,” “future-focused,” and crucial to increasing diversity in politics.

Under these new rules, legislative texts are eliminating the words “mother,” “son,” “daughter,” “brother,” “sister,” and “uncle” and will replace them with gender-inclusive terms such as “parent,” “child,” “sibling,” “parent’s sibling,” “first cousin,” and “sibling’s child.”

The proposal also includes the use of gender-neutral pronouns like “themselves” instead of “himself” or “herself.” This will extend to job titles as well. For example, the new text uses “chair” instead of “chairmen” and “seafarer” instead of “seamen.”

The House noted that the update “modernizes the use of pronouns, familial relationship terminology, and other references to gender in order to be inclusive of all members, delegates, resident commissioners, employees of the House, and their families.”

Republicans opposed the changes and some GOP lawmakers spoke out against them, deriding them as unnecessary. In a tweet, new Brooklyn and Staten Island Representative Nicole Malliotakis — who boasts a long record of anti-LGBTQ actions dating back to her time in the State Legislature — denounced the gender-neutral language.

Anti-LGBTQ Representative Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island and Brooklyn thinks gender-neutral language is “ridiculous.” Reuters/Stephanie Keith

“There are millions of Americans suffering, our economy is hurting, vaccine distribution is lagging and Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats are worried about this nonsense,” Malliotakis wrote in a tweet. “Here’s a gender-neutral word to describe this legislation: ridiculous.”

Malliotakis’ long history of bigotry includes spreading transphobic bathroom narratives and voting against same-sex marriage and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which added gender identity and expression as protected classes in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California also blasted his Democratic colleagues for increasing inclusivity in Congress.

“This is stupid,” McCarthy wrote in a tweet.  “Signed,  A father, son, and brother.”

Gender-inclusive language is just one of many new changes covered in the 45-page House rule’s packet. Legislatures can expect new accountability measures, whistleblower protections, and guidelines for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which will focus on training, recruiting, hiring, promoting and retaining a diverse workforce. This committee will also survey and evaluate diversity in House employment offices and submit a House of Representative’s diversity report each session.

Notably, there are currently no non-binary officials in Congress — and change has also been slow in State Legislatures, though some gains have been made in recent years. In 2018, Danica Roem of Virginia became the first out transgender person elected to a State Legislature and last year Delaware elected Sarah McBride as the nation’s first out trans state senator.

The move to adopt gender-inclusive language comes as similar efforts have been underway on the local level in New York City, where many Brooklyn Democrats have gone to great lengths to eradicate party rules stipulating that county committee seats be split up between men and women.

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