Commissioners vote to make County code gender-inclusive with pronouns they, them and theirs

June 7, 2019

The Board of Commissioners Thursday passed an ordinance to update Multnomah County Code to be gender inclusive, replacing gender-specific pronouns with the pronouns they, them and theirs.

For example, in code outlining the obligations of a tow truck driver, the language will change from “The towing operator shall, upon request, identify himself by giving his full name to any patron of the licensee,” to “The towing operator shall, upon request, provide their full name to any patron of the licensee.”

Multnomah County Attorney Jenny Madkour said the administrative updates reflect a broader commitment to equity.

Multnomah County Attorney Jenny Madkour said the administrative updates reflect a broader commitment to equity.

“This is our code of ordinances. It is a foundational document that Multnomah County uses to create legislation that helps members of the public know their duties, obligations and responsibilities, and it states the Board’s policy direction,” she said. “This is a real opportunity for us to bring to this Board an amendment to this code that will further reflect the values of this community.”

The code included 29 uses of gender-specific pronouns, nine of which were only masculine. The Board voted to amend the code and encouraged County departments to scour foundational County documents for other updates that would be more inclusive of people who do not identify as either male or female.

“This is a guiding document that must reflect our values,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said.

“Language does matter, and sometimes we can forget that,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “It matters in communicating our values, in shaping our values. And this language change recognizes our identities and makes visible those who have not been visible in the past.”

Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann said they would like to ask residents to vote on similar updates in the County Home Rule Charter.

Two years ago the County adopted new personnel rules to support a gender-neutral workplace and to ensure employees who are transgender or nonbinary would be respected in the workplace. This move builds on that work, said Chief Diversity Officer Ben Duncan, who thanked the county attorney for leading the effort.

“We sometimes take for granted what a personnel rule or policy document can mean for everyday practice. If anyone knows the power of language, it’s lawyers,” Duncan said. “Taking that vision of inclusion and belonging, and dedicating the time to ensure our code language and future policy will be gender neutral — that represents an important contribution to our broader equity work.”

Library Assistant Elleona Budd, who uses the pronouns they/them, said the seemingly clerical updates replay a deeper message to the public.

“If we’re going to be proud and diverse, we need to have policy and legislation that matches that,” they said. “For people in the County, especially this County, we look to show that each person is valued and seen and heard.”