Council to reconsider pronoun proposal

After more than 100 people showed up on April 20 to oppose an Ocala city charter amendment to eliminate gender-specific pronouns from the 1970s-era document, the City Council ditched the proposal altogether.

Ocala Gazette columnist Sadie Fitzpatrick addresses the City Council about the pronoun issue during the Ocala City Council meeting at Hall on Tuesday, May 18. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
But now, the proposal is back, with one important change. Instead of asking voters through a referendum to decide if gender-specific pronouns should be removed, the new proposal asks if voters would favor including both ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns in the document. Many of those opposed were concerned about erasing gender from the official document.

The tweaked proposed amendment will go before the city council on June 1 for a first reading. If approved, the question will go before the voters on the Sept. 21 city election ballot.

The reconsideration came after the May 18 council meeting when the board heard from the original group that suggested the change and received a petition in favor of including ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns.

Apostle Brandon Cave Sr., representing the African American Pastoral Leaders of Ocala Marion County, clarified the group’s position.

“The context of the resolution, in our opinion, was intentionally manipulated to promote public outcry and discourage the ideas of others,” Cave told council members. “There was absolutely nothing in our resolution that used the words ‘gender-specific.’”

During the April 20 meeting, it was Cave who asked for the council to pull the proposal, which Councilman Matthew Wardell did.

On May 18, however, Cave said the proposal was aimed at “eradicating systemic racism, social and economic injustices from our city.” It was not a move toward eliminating traditional binary gender pronouns, as some interpreted.

Sadie Fitzpatrick, who is an Ocala Gazette columnist, addressed the council while representing a separate group that penned a letter to council members on April 29.

“I’m here tonight to ask you to reconsider the proposal seeking to remove gender-specific pronouns from our city charter,” Fitzpatrick said. “And replace ‘he’ with ‘he or she’ to become more inclusive of the demographic make-up of our city government.”

As it’s written now, the Ocala city charter refers to all members of city government in the masculine pronoun. Including the city manager, who is referred to as a “he” in subsequent references. The city manager post is currently held by Sandra Wilson, a woman.

Fitzpatrick went on to explain to members of the council that gender-specific references were removed from the State of Florida’s statutes in 1996 after the Florida Supreme Court conducted a study that found that “gender bias in legal language cannot be ignored or trivialized.”

“We’re behind the times in terms of making this important change,” Fitzpatrick said. “Ocala serves as a leader in so many areas – logistics, distribution and cultural arts, to name a few. It is time that our city charter reflects that by adopting gender-neutral language.”

Heeding to the concerns that surfaced in the meeting on April 20, Fitzpatrick assured that the change would not blur the lines of gender identity.

“It is simply intended to allow the titles in our city charter to accurately reflect who holds these jobs,” Fitzpatrick added.

According to an email from Rob Batsel, the city’s attorney, to council members, the revised proposal calls to “revise masculine pronouns to include the feminine equivalent. The revision replaces the words ‘he’ with ‘he or she’; ‘his’ with ‘his or her’; ‘him’ with ‘him or her’; ‘councilman’ with ‘council member’; ‘policeman’ with ‘police officer’; and ‘spokesman’ with ‘spokesperson.’”

Posted in Community, Government, News

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