Gender neutral language has affected all levels of government, including state legislatures and school districts. Laws have been enacted to equalize language between men and women during the past couple of decades.
Here are five ways gender-neutral language has been making its way into official use:
Florida was one of the earliest states to undergo changes to language in its constitution. State lawmakers have been making gender-neutral language changes to its code since the late 1990s. Updates included changing servicemen to service members and fishermen to fishers, Edith Pollitz, who headed the state’s revision efforts, told Time
. Terms such as “he” were changed to “he or she” and “she or he” throughout documents. Bills continued to be introduced with other gender language.
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The state of Washington spent several years debating about gender-neutral language before rewriting state laws that replaced “freshman” with “first-year student,” “journeyman plumber” with “journey-level plumber” and “fisherman” with “fisher,” the Daily Mail reported
The legislation in 2013 required all references to “his” be changed to “his or her.” “Clergyman” became “clergy” and “signalman” was now known as “signal operator.” Even the term “penmanship” was altered to avoid offense with the acceptable “handwriting.” Some of the changed official titles include firefighter, police officer, and ombuds instead of ombudsman.
The new law required changes to some 3,500 sections in the state code. Most of the changes involved replacing such terms as “his” with “his or her.”
Other states altering their constitution or other documents for gender-neutral language include North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Hawaii, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Utah.
“Words matter,” Liz Watson, a senior adviser for the National Women’s Law Center, said, according to the Daily Mail. “This is important in changing hearts and minds.”
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on legalizing same-sex marriage, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the use of gender-neutral language in family court cases, The Washington Times reported
. The gender-neutral changes affect the wording when referring to such terms as husband, wife, father, mother, parent and spouse.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that replaced such terms as “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” in 2014 after California legalized same-sex marriage.
“This legislation removes outdated and biased language from state codes and recognizes all married spouses equally, regardless of their gender,” State Sen. Mark Leno, who helped sponsor the legislation, said, according to the Los Angeles Times
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5. School Districts
School districts throughout the country are also dealing with gender-neutral language issues. State legislation or the approval by school district boards might determine the final decisions, but schools are experimenting with new terms and phrases.
Some teachers and administrators follow advice from organizations supporting a gender sensitive environment. In 2014, teachers near Lincoln, Nebraska, were given handouts of recommendations, which included avoiding terms such as “boys and girls” and “you guys.” Some teachers and school administrators welcomed the advice, but other teachers and parents questioned the terminology, The Christian Science Monitor reported
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