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US House of Representatives approves gender-neutral language rules in stunning victory for diversity and inclusion

Lily Wakefield January 5, 2021
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi waits during votes in the first session of the 117th Congress

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi waits during votes in the first session of the 117th Congress in the House Chamber at the US Capitol on 3 January, 2021 in Washington, DC. (POOL/AFP via Getty/ Tasos Katopodis)

The US House of Representatives has approved a new set of rules for the 117th Congress, which include adopting gender-neutral language.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the proposed rule changes on Friday (1 January), and they were approved Monday (4 January) in a 217-206 party-line vote.

Alongside new rules stipulating that former members who have committed a crime related to their office are banned from the floor and making it a rule violation to expose the identity of a whistleblower, the package has a strong focus on diversity and inclusion.

According to a press release from the Committee on Rules, the changes mean that the House will establish a Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, make the Office of Diversity and Inclusion permanent, survey the diversity of witness panels at committee hearings, and “require standing committees to include in their oversight plans a discussion of how committee work over the forthcoming Congress will address issues of inequities on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, or national origin”.

The most talked-about point, however, is that the new rules will “honour all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral”.

According to The Fresno Bee, this includes removing gendered pronouns, changing “chairman” to “chair”, swapping the words “mother, father, daughter, son, sister and brother” with terms like “parent, child and sibling”, and replacing “seamen” with “seafarers”.

Although the rules do not ban gendered language in the House of Representatives, just amends the House rules to be gender-neutral, the change has, of course, enraged right-wing conservatives.

Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy wrote articulately on Twitter: “This is stupid. Signed, a father, son, and brother.”

In a column for the conservative news site Town Hall, anti-LGBT+ radio host Jeff Crouere wrote: “Throughout history, words such as ‘husband and wife’ have served mankind, sorry, humanity, sorry, the world, very well thank you.

“In the view of the vast majority of Americans, eliminating such terms is patently ridiculous.

“It is only an issue for the hyper progressive wing of the Democratic Party that also wants to totally eliminate all traditional roles for men and women.

“These true believers on the left want to blur any biological differences between men and women and negate the God-given advantages of masculinity and femininity.”

But Democratic representative Hakeem Jeffries clearly explained to Fox News: “From my standpoint, the gender-neutral language is just consistent with an effort for the House, in the best tradition of the House, to reflect the gorgeous mosaic of the American people in the most sensitive fashion possible.”

Related topics: Congress, gender neutral, house of representatives, Nancy Pelosi, pronouns

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