Philly can vote to get rid of man-centric language in the city charter

Right now, the city’s governing document defines some positions as for “men of recognized standing.” A ballot question in the May primary would change that.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker is spearheading the effort

Councilmember Cherelle Parker is spearheading the effort

Jared Piper / Philadelphia City Council Flickr
michaelawinberg-2020-2

In the May primary, Philly voters will get to decide whether gendered language should be removed from the city’s most important documents.

City Council on Thursday approved two bills introduced by 9th District Councilmember Cherelle Parker.

One would replace gendered references in the city’s governing document, the Home Rule Charter. The other would strip male/female-specific language from the chater’s Education Supplement. Any change to the charter must be approved via ballot question.

“Words matter,” said Parker, who also serves as Council majority leader. “And when words are gendered, particularly in formal governing documents like our Home Rule Charter, it can have unintended consequences, such as implying that all police officers and firefighters are men.”

It’s addition to better including women, the changes would also be more inclusive for trans, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary Philadelphians.

First written almost 70 years ago, the Home Rule Charter uses male pronouns. The terms of office for the mayor, for example, assumes a man leads the city: “The Mayor shall serve for a term of four years beginning on the first Monday of January following his election.”

A section that lays out the rules for departmental boards and commissions requires its appointed members to be “men of recognized standing and experience.”

“As a society, we have come a long way since then, and have outgrown the male-dominated narrative,” Parker said. “It is more than past time to modernize the language we use, and removing gender-based references is a necessary step.”

Both bills to remove these references passed unanimously on Thursday. That kicks the question to voters, who will get to decide if they want to shrug off gendered language by answering a question on the May 17 primary ballot.

That question will read: “Should The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to remove all gender-based references?”

In the upcoming primary election, voters will also select candidates in their party to run for governor, seats in the state legislature, and the U.S. Senate and House.

This possible refresh to the Home Rule Charter is similar to one that passed a few years ago. Councilmember Derek Green introduced a bill that asked voters in the November 2019 election if they wanted to make City Council titles gender neutral.

Before this initiative, Green was called a councilman and Parker a councilwoman. But because voters approved the ballot question, they and all other city legislators are called councilmembers.

“This [is an] important and ongoing topic of what it means to be properly represented — not as a man or woman, but simply as a human being,” Green said when it passed. “Much of our City Code is antiquated and no longer applies to who we are.”

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