Jan 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

He/she could be they in the new Congress

A sign designates a gender neutral restroom
The symbol for gender-neutral restrooms at a facility in South Africa. Photo: Michele Spatari/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to rewrite its rules — swapping out male and female references like "he" and "she" for gender-neutral terms — in a diversity and inclusion push by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats that's drawing scorn from Republicans.

Why it matters: The proposal comes as transgender and non-binary candidates are being elected around the country, progressives are gaining influence in the Democratic politics and U.S. schools and companies are adjusting policies and language to reflect society's changing views on sexuality and gender identification.

  • The proposed changes were announced Friday ahead of two pivotal runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 to decide which party controls the Senate — and could stoke turnout among its supporters or opponents.
  • Members are expected to consider the package next week.

The big picture: The package announced by Pelosi and House Rules Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) also includes whistleblower protections, removes floor privileges for former members convicted of certain crimes, and blocks Republicans from some last-minute amendments.

  • It establishes a select committee on economic disparity, and would make permanent an Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

But it's the gender-inclusive language that's drawing the most early attention. "He" or "she" would become "Member," "Delegate" or "Resident Commissioner." And "father" and "mother" would become "parent" while "brother" and "sister" would be "sibling."

The other side: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called the measure "stupid" in a tweet Friday night and sarcastically added, "Signed, - A father, son, and brother"

  • McGovern told Axios in a statement: “It is ridiculous that in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, this is what some on the extreme right want to fight about...only in Congress would it be a scandal to be succinct. We are being inclusive, efficient and accurate.”

Between the lines: The change could close a potential ethics loophole if a non-binary person is involved in a conflict involving a lawmaker. The rule text change makes it clear everyone regardless of gender identification or orientation is subject to ethics regulations.

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