Oakland, CA – Today, City Attorney Barbara J. Parker, Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, and City Councilmember Sheng Thao announced that they are co-sponsoring a resolution to establish a pathbreaking progressive policy regarding the use of gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language. Going forward, the resolution ensures that city laws, policies, and communications use terminology that accounts for all gender identities and does not assume or prescribe any specific gender. The resolution also includes a plan to submit a City Charter amendment to the voters in 2022 that would update the Charter to be consistent with the City’s future-facing policy.
“Nonbinary, transgender, pangender, intersex, genderqueer, agender, two-spirit, and other people who may fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly male or female have every right to see themselves reflected in the laws and policies that govern them,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights, and civil rights. This resolution is an important step in recognizing those rights and in ensuring that public policy language recognizes and includes all Oaklanders in the discourse and laws of our City.”
Although the resolution is a first for Oakland, it is part of a growing movement across California to improve and amend the language of gender in law and policy. In 2017, the California Legislature enacted the Gender Recognition Act, which made California one of the first states to officially recognize “nonbinary” as a third gender marker on state-issued identity documents. The following year, the Legislature adopted a resolution calling for the use of gender-neutral language and gender-neutral pronouns in all new and revised state legislation, much akin to the resolution being proposed in Oakland. Berkeley enacted a similar Ordinance in 2019. And the League of California Cities has issued guidance urging all cities to update their codes and policies to reflect this change in state law.
“Our community is richer when everyone can live their fullest and truest self in our city and feel a deep sense of belonging in Oakland,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said. “Although we have much work ahead of us to build a fully just and equitable society for everyone, we do hope this action contributes to Oakland’s march toward that more just society.”
Amending the city’s Charter, which currently still refers to the Mayor using male pronouns, is a longer process that requires voter input. However, the city’s elected and appointed officials will begin implementing this resolution within city government before 2022, ensuring that it has immediate meaning to and is inclusive of Oakland residents of all backgrounds as soon as it passes. The resolution will be introduced at the Council’s October 6 meeting.
“It is important that the City of Oakland respect all of our community—and reflect that in our actions and in our words,” said City Council President Rebecca Kaplan. “Gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language in our laws, policies and communications is an important and progressive step forward, to make sure we are expressing valuing a community of people of all genders and orientations.”
“Words create worlds and the words we choose have huge impacts on the lives of many of our LGBTQA+ community,” explained City Councilmember Sheng Thao, “I am co-sponsoring this resolution because the City of Oakland is dedicated to creating a world that celebrates diversity. It’s long past time we did so by making our city government an inclusive and safe place for everyone.”