After Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, announced last Thursday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will do away with gendered pronouns in its written rules, her statements generated controversy and confusion over whether uttering the pronouns “he and “she” would be allowed during committee meetings.
For her first order of business, Ms. Jackson, the committee’s chair, said the pronouns “he” and “she” would be removed from the committee’s rules in order to comply with the state’s recognition of the “nonbinary” gender designation. Instead, they would be merged into a phrase she admitted that “my grammar teacher would have had a heart attack over.”
“We are using the phrase ‘they,’ and replacing other designations so that it’s a gender-neutral designation,” she said.
California Family Council produced a YouTube video of the meeting titled “CA state senator bans gendered pronouns, but then violates her own rules over and over.” The video shows Ms. Jackson’s announcement, followed by several instances of her using gendered pronouns throughout the meeting.
Ms. Jackson’s office issued a statement to the News-Press asserting that these “minor changes” to the committee’s bylaws had been taken out of context and misinterpreted.
“It does not ban the use of gendered pronouns in any way.
“It simply makes our bylaws clearer and more consistent going forth,” it read.
California Family Council director of capital engagement Greg Burt, who said he was at last Thursday’s meeting, called the senator’s words “confusing” due to some of her other statements.
“If you listen to what she says, she corrected one of the senators for referring to her as ‘she,'” he said.
Ms. Jackson did correct Senator Bill Monning, D-Carmel.
“I appreciate Senator Monning observing that the chair is ‘she,’ but in the spirit of gender neutrality for the rules in this committee, it now designates the chair as ‘they,” she said. The senator then referred back to her grammar teacher, who “is long gone, and I won’t be hearing from her.” Those in attendance then interjected and Ms. Jackson corrected herself, “from them, from they!”
Not only that, but she finished by telling the meeting’s attendees, “for any of you who may hear from an old grammar teacher, blame it on me.”
Mr. Burt objected to the idea of people being forced use gender-neutral pronouns when addressing the committee.
“She can’t force them on other people and believe in free speech,” he said.
In a clarifying statement Ms. Jackson told the News-Press the public will not have to be bothered by replacing every “he” and “she” with “they” when addressing the board. The pronoun “they,” she said, is to be used in the committee’s written documentation to make the inclusion of the nonbinary designation’s shorter and easier.
“It’s just to make it easier than to say ‘he, she, they,’ for everything,” she said.
Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network board president Koreen Pagano was pleased with this change and said “raising awareness of how commonly we already use gender neutral they/them pronouns when we don’t know someone’s gender is a good thing.”
UCSB health equity advocate and SBTAN board member Han Koehle said that although the change of language is a “great first step,” it’s ultimately less a “crucial civil rights victory and more a small, necessary piece of linguistic housekeeping” to ensure that those that those who fall under the nonbinary category are not linguistically excluded in the state’s written laws.
Koehle, who chooses to go by the pronoun “they,” added that the transgender community has greater issues than the absence of gender-neutral language in state documents.
“It’s a good idea to update pronouns in legal language, but we’re still trying to get healthcare, education, and bathrooms,” Koehle said.