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U.S. House Adopts Gender-Neutral Language for Rules Document

Nancy Pelosi

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved gender-neutral language in the official House rules and established a permanent Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

These measures were part of a rules package adopted Monday, The Hill reports. The House approves a set of rules at the beginning of each session of Congress, and this week marks the start of the 117th Congress.

The changes mean that the rules document will use language such as “parent,” “child,” and “sibling” instead of “mother,” “father,” “son,” daughter,” “brother,” and “sister.” It will also replace “chairman” with “chair,” “seamen” with “seafarers,” and “himself” and “herself” with “themself.” The Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman will become the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds.

These changes apply only to the rules document and do not prevent House members from using gendered language in any other communication, although some right-wing politicians and commentators have contended that gendered words have been banned.

The move “would not impinge upon the freedom of any House members to use gender-specific language in the course of conducting the business of the House,” the fact-checking site Snopes notes. The site found that accounts from sources including far-right pundits Todd Starnes and Dinesh D’Souza have been misleading.

“We made this change for the sake of inclusion, not exclusion,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, according to The Hill. McGovern is a Democrat from Massachusetts; Democrats hold the House majority. The rules package was approved 217-206, along party lines.

“As House Speaker, I am pleased to join Chairman Jim McGovern in introducing this visionary rules package, which reflects the views and values of the full range of our historically diverse House Democratic Majority,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a press release announcing the package. “Thanks to the leadership of Chairman McGovern and our members, Democrats have crafted a package of unprecedented, bold reforms, which will make the House more accountable, transparent and effective in our work to meet the needs of the American people.  These future-focused proposals reflect our priorities as a caucus and as a country — including crushing the coronavirus, addressing economic disparity, combating the climate crisis, advancing inclusion, and promoting integrity in government.”

In addition to the provision on gender-neutral language, the rules will promote inclusion through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which will “facilitate a diverse workforce,” and by mandating that standing committees address inequities relating to race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics, Pelosi’s press release states.

Other parts of the rules package expand protection for whistleblowers, establish a committee on economic disparity, strengthen ethics regulations, continue the work of committees on climate change and COVID-19, extend remote voting during the pandemic, and make it more difficult for the House minority to amend legislation at the last minute.

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