Election 2022

If voters approve, Philly will boot gendered references like ‘fireman’ from the city’s official governing documents

The move would stop assuming the mayor and school superintendent will always be a man.

Some of the women of the Philadelphia Fire Department by one of their airport vehicles

Some of the women of the Philadelphia Fire Department by one of their airport vehicles

Rian Watkins for Billy Penn

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

Philadelphia’s governing documents are filled with male pronouns. They were written a half-century ago, so the wording isn’t exactly a surprise. But it is outdated.

The Home Rule Charter, adopted in the 1950s, uses “he” and “him” to refer to the mayor, and calls firefighters “firemen.” The educational supplement, adopted in the ’60s, uses male pronouns for the superintendent and president of the Board of Education.

Two questions on the May primary ballot ask you to decide if Philly should retire these male-centric terms and pronouns, and replace them in the official documents with gender-neutral alternatives.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Should The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to remove all gender-based references?

And, as a separate question:

Should the Educational Supplement to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to remove all gender-based references?

What it means

Although these two ballot questions effectively ask the same thing, they’re separate because they affect what are technically two separate documents.

Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter is the document that outlines how the city governs itself — essentially Philly’s constitution. The Educational Supplement is the piece of the charter that sets rules for Philly public schools and the Board of Education.

Voting yes on each of the measures means you’d like to see edits that would remove all gender-based references from the document named in the question. For example, the term “policemen” would become “police officers,” and any references to the mayor using the pronoun “he” would be changed to “the Mayor.”

Voting no means you’d like to keep the existing language.

The legislation to add the questions to the May ballot passed unanimously in City Council in February.

“Words matter,” the bills’ sponsor, Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, said at the time. “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.”

Some gendered references have already been removed from the charter. In 2019, a majority of Philly voters chose to adopt a measure that changed references to lawmakers serving on City Council, changing charter language from “councilman” to “councilmember” and “councilmanic” to “council.”

Who’s for it

  • City Council

Who’s against it

  • Billy Penn did not identify any public figures or organized groups against this measure

Want some more? Explore other Election 2022 stories.

Mornings are for coffee and local news

Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter gives you a daily roundup of the top Philly stories you need to start your day.

You finished another Billy Penn article — keep it up!

We hope you found it useful, fun, or maybe even both. If you want more stories like this, will you join us as a member today?

Nice to see you (instead of a paywall)

Billy Penn’s mission is to provide free, quality information to Philadelphians through our articles and daily newsletter. If you believe local journalism is key to a healthy community, join us!

Your donation brought this story to life

Billy Penn only exists because of supporters like you. If you find our work valuable, consider making a sustaining donation today.

Being informed looks good on you

Thanks for reading another article, made possible by members like you. Want to share BP with a friend?