The city of Everett is considering changing its municipal code’s language to replace gender-specific terms with gender-neutral words. (City of Everett)

The city of Everett is considering changing its municipal code’s language to replace gender-specific terms with gender-neutral words. (City of Everett)

Everett considers gender-neutral terms for municipal code

References to “he” or “she” could change to title-specific words such as “firefighter” or “police officer.”

EVERETT — “He,” “she” and other gender-specific words in the Everett Municipal Code could be swapped out for gender-neutral terms later this year.

City staff are writing an ordinance for the Everett City Council to consider within a month. If approved, “fireman” could become “firefighter,” “policeman” could be switched to “police officer” and “his/her” would be changed to “director,” for example.

“As a trans person who’s non-binary, seeing yourself included and supported in that way is really meaningful,” said Natalia Tune of Everett, who serves on the Everett Diversity Advisory Board.

People in the LGBTQIA community historically have been subjected to harassment and violence. There were 116 sexual-orientation and 17 gender-identity hate crimes in the state two years ago, according to FBI statistics compiled from local law enforcement agencies. Last year, sexual orientation hate crimes decreased to 50, but gender identity hate crimes rose to 21.

A report about anti-transgender violence by the Human Rights Campaign links dehumanization of trans people, lack of opportunity to fully participate in society, racism and sexism, and other factors as leading to murders of trans people. The report says one way to address that violence is by increasing the visibility of trans people.

Tune had advocated for the language change last year and recently revisited it with Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, who agreed with the idea. One of the mayor’s priorities has been a “safe community,” which includes making Everett “inclusive and welcoming.”

“It’s so important,” Franklin said. “We have a number of staff that are pretty passionate about this, I’m passionate about this.”

Other cities and government agencies have made a similar shift. Berkeley, California, made national headlines in 2019 for using gender-neutral terms. Shoreline did it last year.

Everett plans to use the company that hosts its municipal code, Code Publishing, for the work. It’s expected to cost at least $750, Franklin said.

Franklin, the first woman to be elected Everett mayor, said she still encounters people who expect the office to be filled by a man. Just recently she received an email addressed to “Dear gentleman.”

This kind of language change can inform people about the breadth of gender identity and normalize asking people for their preferred pronouns, if they’re comfortable sharing them, Tune said.

“Language matters and representation matters,” Tune said. “Inclusion matters. Seeing yourself represented in government language is something that should happen across the board across the country. … Seeing ourselves in that language really makes a difference.”

Franklin and Tune hope other governments in Snohomish County and across the state make changes similar to Everett.

The ordinance, if approved, could be official by the end of the year.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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