California Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, made national news in last month when she announced to Senate Judiciary Committee members that the Chair should no longer be referred to as “he or she,” but as “they.” After publicly correcting the pronoun use of a fellow senator and then correcting her own use of the pronoun “her,” many logically assumed she planned to ban gendered pronouns for everyone communicating within her committee. But after days of being lambasted by the national press and even by her own local newspaper, she corrected herself and said she only meant to enforce her new grammar rules within the text of the committee bylaws.
Jackson said the change reflects the fact that California now recognizes a non-binary designation on birth certificates and driver’s licenses for those not wanting to identity as male or female. Many of those identifying as non-binary want to be referred to using they/them pronouns, instead of gendered pronouns like he/she. Despite the change, the pronoun rules proved easier for Jackson to practice in writing, than to actually put into practice while talking. Immediately after announcing the rules, Jackson started violating using gendered pronouns; at least 14 times within 30 minutes.
“We are using the phrase ‘they’ and replacing other designations so that it is a gender neutral designation,” Jackson told the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. She went on to explain that these changes would have given her grammar teacher a heart attack. Then in a moment of amusing irony, Jackson concluded by saying, “My grammar teacher is long gone and I will not be hearing from her.” Someone on the committee immediately pointed out Jackson’s mistake. “From them, exactly,” she said correcting herself.
In a statement released by Jackson’s office, the Senator explains her real intent:
I announced some modifications to the language of our committee’s internal rules which act as bylaws to the committee. Some people have taken these very minor changes out of context and misinterpreted them as a banning of the use of he/she language in our regular legislative business or in California’s laws. It does not ban the use of gendered pronouns in any way. It simply makes our bylaws clearer and more consistent going forward.
Here is the change made to the committee bylaws:
Prior to the 2019 session the rules read: “The Chair shall preside at meetings when present, except when the committee is considering a bill of which he or she is the sole or lead author.”
The same sentence now reads: “The Chair shall preside at meetings when present, except when the committee is considering a bill of which theyare the sole or lead author.”
It is confusing why Jackson would correct the pronoun use of a fellow senator and then herself, if she only meant to make this change to the committee bylaws. But even if this is all Jackson meant to announce, why does she think she has the right or authority to change grammar rules, that she admitted her ‘grammar teacher would have had a heart attack over.”