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Congress will soon have to use gender-neutral language, thanks to Pelosi's House reforms

The new code of conduct will include gender neutral terms for otherwise gendered words in official language. "Brother," for instance, will be changed to "sibling."

Congress will soon have to use gender-neutral language, thanks to Pelosi's House reforms
Image Source: Swearing In Held For U.S. Senators To Start The 117th Congress. WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03. (Photo by Bill O'Leary-Pool/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was just reelected, and Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern have introduced a new code of conduct ahead of the 117th Congress. The new set of rules include "sweeping" reforms to promote diversity and inclusion initiatives. In addition to permanently establishing an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the code of conduct comprises changes to acceptable language during Congressional hearings. While Congress previously operated under a binary rule, the new rules will "honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral," The Hill reports.


Pelosi affirmed in a statement, "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." The notable changes in language come at a time when a record number of openly LGBTQ+ policymakers join Congress. It must be highlighted, nonetheless, that there are still no nonbinary representatives in either the House or the Senate.


Among other terms, gendered words such as father and mother, son and daughter, or brother and sister, for instance, will be replaced in official language by gender-neutral terms parent, child, or sibling, respectively. Of course, several anti-LGBTQ+ policymakers weighed in on the new reforms, decrying them. One of these critics was Representative Kevin McCarthy, who supported the Defense of Marriage act banning same-sex marriage. He wrote on Twitter, "This is stupid. Signed, a father, son, and brother." To McCarthy, the change may seem unnecessary, but for hundreds of non-binary folks, this seemingly small shift can make a world of difference.


"My conservative friends on Facebook are absolutely losing their mind about Congress replacing gendered words in its rules with gender neutral pronouns," one Twitter user posted. "Imagine caring that much about common courtesy." Others, however, highlighted that this was nothing but a case of virtue signaling rather than actual change. Another Twitter user pointed out, "I could see if the goal were to draft legislation with gender neutral language for the sake of clarity and/or scope, but this just appears to be a totally unrelated virtue signal controlling how congress members refer to each other." 



The new code of conduct is yet to be put to the vote. If passed, it would not prevent the use of gendered terms by Congresspeople. In actuality, only official documentation would need to be changed in order to meet the requirements of the new set of rules. For example, included in the changes, the Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman would become the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds. In more actionable terms, the package makes steps towards diversifying the witness panels at committee hearings as well as framing legislation through the lens of various intersectional inequities, such as race, gender, and sexuality.


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