Council pushed to use neutral language

By Lark Lewis

A resident’s words sparked discussion over the use of gender-inclusive language in City Council at its Monday meeting.

Lynnea Erickson voiced her disapproval of how City Council handled the suggestion of altering language to include all genders at the meeting. At a March 14 meeting, City Attorney Dean Frieders suggested the change to fall in line with other cities.

Some changes would be to address aldermen as alderpeople or address male members as aldermen and female members as alderwomen. Erickson said her greatest disappointment came from council members making light of the suggestion.

“I think the words we use are a really important way of how we look at the world … ,” Erickson said.

Third ward Alderperson Kristen Lash has shown her support for inclusive language and has requested to be referred to as an alderperson.

“It really came home to me the first time that I brought it up a couple years ago and it died for a lack of the second [motion],” Lash said. “And when I looked around, I was the only woman in the room.”

Lash said after that experience, which took place in April 2012, she realized how big of an issue gender-inclusive language is.

“We did make a small baby step forward in saying we were going to use he/she from here on out,” Lash said. “But that doesn’t fix the issue of the title, and it’s not gender-neutral.”

Lash and Erickson are seeking complete gender neutrality, which includes people who do not identify with a gender.

“When I tried to bring [gender neutrality] up at the meeting [on March 14], there were a couple aldermen that were actually surprised that there are more than two genders,” Lash said.

Erickson said one of her motivations to speak out is so women can feel welcome to work for the city.

“It’s easy to look around and see that we have aldermen and councilmen and to think … that represents everyone,” Erickson said. “As a woman I didn’t really understand I had a place in there on any sort of level as an equal.”

People have suggested rewriting city code with inclusive language. Council members said a compromise would be to use inclusive language in future ordinances and bylaws.

“As individual ordinances are considered, I’m sure gender-neutral language will be incorporated into those ordinances,” said DeKalb Mayor John Rey. “Incrementally, I would look to put gender-neutral language into specific ordinances so there will be an increasing sensitivity to gender-neutral language.”