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Flood of interest in gender-neutral bill after Dori Monson rant

A KIRO Radio hosts' comments about a gender neutral bill in Olympia is apparently ruffling some feathers. (KIRO Radio/file)

A KIRO Radio hosts’ comments about a gender neutral bill in Olympia are apparently ruffling some feathers.

“I’ve been getting non-stop media calls because of a news talk host last Friday ridiculing me and the legislation and ranting, so we got a flood of calls and email into our office, which this is just sensible- why can’t someone be called firefighter if she’s been a firefighter for 10 years and is protecting the public and if she feel uncomfortable with being called a fireman?” said the sponsor of the bill Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

So, who was that host who went on a “rant” about making state law gender neutral?

“We have a story going on in our state legislature in Olympia that is just, it’s breathtaking to me with all the nonsense that we have to deal with in this state, with the multi-billion dollar deficit that we run up every year, then they have to figure – how are we going to pay for education? How are we going to pay for basic law enforcement? How are we going to keep the criminals in jail? You know what they’re worried about in this legislative session in Olympia? They are going to try to make all language in state law gender neutral,” said Dori Monson on his KIRO Radio talk show Jan. 25.

“Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat who represents people with way too much free time in our state, she’s introduced and successfully passed six other bills that have changed the language of the laws bit by bit, but this bill would make 100 percent of the state’s RCW gender neutral,” said Monson.

Kohl-Welles latest bill SB 5077, is meant to clear out any existing non gender-neutral language still on the books.

Over the past six years, state officials have engaged in the task of changing the language used in the state’s laws, including thousands of words and phrases, many written more than a century ago when the idea of women working on police forces or on fishing boats wasn’t a consideration.

That process is slated to draw to a close this year. So while the state has already welcomed “firefighters,” “clergy” and “police officers” into its lexicon, “ombuds” (in place of ombudsman) and “security guards” (previously “watchmen,”) appear to be next, along with “dairy farmers,” “first-year students” and “handwriting.”

About half of all U.S. states have moved toward such gender-neutral language at varying levels, from drafting bills to changing state constitutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida and Minnesota have already completely revised their laws as Washington state is doing.

The final installment of Washington state’s bill already has sailed through the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee with unanimous approval. The nearly 500-page bill has one more committee stop scheduled before full Senate debate.

Seattle Councilmember Sally Clark and former Councilmember Jan Drago, the Seattle City Council has long eschewed the terms councilwoman or councilman, brought the issue to Sen. Jeannie Kohl-Welles in 2006 after they came across references to firemen and policemen in the mayor’s proposed budget, as well as in state law dealing with local government pensions.

Clark and Drago’s findings sparked the initial gender-neutral language law that was passed in 2007, immediately changing those terms and directing the state code reviser’s office to do a full revision of the rest of the code. A 1983 Washington state law had already required all new statutes to be written in gender-neutral terms, so state officials were tasked with going through the rest of state statutes dating back to 1854 to revise the rest.

As in past bills on the issue that have tackled sections of the state code, some revisions were as simple as adding “or her” after “his.” Others required a little more scrutiny. Phrases like “man’s past” changes to “humankind’s past” and a “prudent man or woman” is simply a “prudent person.”

Kyle Thiessen, the state’s code reviser who has been working on the project along with two attorneys since 2008, said that the work was not without obstacles.
Words like “manhole” and “manlock” aren’t so easily replaced, he said. Substitutes have been suggested _ “utility hole” and “air lock serving as a decompression chamber for workers.” But Thiessen said those references will be left alone to avoid confusion.

Republican state Rep. Shelly Short, of Addy, has voted against earlier gender-neutral language bills and said she plans to do the same this year.

“I don’t see the need to do gender neutrality,” she said, adding that her constituents want her to focus on jobs and the economy. “We’re women and we’re men.”

Kohl-Welles, who has sponsored each of the gender-neutral language bills, said that while this project hasn’t been her top legislation every year, “overall, it has important significance.”

“I believe,” she said, “that the culture has changed.”

Dori says, “Man society just sucks with that gender specific language. I hate society. I won’t like our society until we become fully gender neutral. In fact, I won’t like our society until every human being in the Puget Sound area is completely, totally and utterly androgynous. Forget about the language, I don’t think we should have men or women anymore.”

He goes on.

“Gender neutral state law may be coming to Washington, and let me just say as the father of three daughters, as a girl’s high school basketball coach – shoot – as a athlete’s high school basketball coach myself. And by the way we have a game tonight, we’ll be playing a little man-to-man defense – Dang it – I hate myself for how society has engrained such misogynistic nonsense inside of me. We are going to be playing student athlete-to-student athlete defense,” said Dori. “Senate Bill 5077 is going to make all language in state law gender neutral and finally we can have some pride in the state in which we live.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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