Replaces gender-specific language in Oakland’s City Charter with gender-neutral language.
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What the Measure Would Do
The charter amendment would remove gendered language from Oakland’s City Charter, which currently uses “he,” “him” and “his” pronouns for city officers and employees and uses variations of the phrase “his or her” when referring to an individual.
The measure would replace all instances of “he,” “him,” “his” or “his or her” with “they” or “them” pronouns in order to include individuals who identify with another gender or do not ascribe to a particular fixed gender. It would also replace gendered terms with non-gendered versions of those terms, such as replacing “fireman” with “firefighter.”
The measure would also delete two articles of the charter, Article 15 (the Police Relief and Pension Fund) and Article 16 (the Firemen’s Relief and Pension Fund), which were consolidated and superseded when the voters enacted Article 26 (the Police and Fire Retirement System) in 1951.
City charters are foundational documents that outline the organization, powers, functions and procedures of government. The Charter of the City of Oakland was adopted in 1968 and established the roles of the City Council, mayor, city manager and other city officials, as well as the fundamental laws of the city.
“Gender-neutral language” refers to terminology that does not specify the gender of those being addressed or described. Examples of gender-specific pronouns include “he/him” and “she/her,” while “they/them” pronouns represent gender-neutral language. “They” or “them” is now socially recognized as a singular pronoun inclusive of transgender and nonbinary people in addition to male and female genders.
Currently, the Oakland City Charter uses “he,” “him” and “his” pronouns for city council members, the mayor and other city officers and employees and uses a variation of the phrase “his or her” when referring to an individual. It also refers to city personnel roles with gender-specific pronouns and includes gendered terminology like “firemen,” “workmen” or “widows.”
The City of Oakland currently employs about 4,500 people, who identify with a variety of genders. For example, the current mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, identifies as a woman and uses “she/her” pronouns, but the current charter describes the role as if it were held (and could only be held) by a man.
Other jurisdictions in California have already adopted gender-neutral language in their government processes:
- In 1974, voters in the State of California passed Proposition 11 to adopt gender-neutral language in the State Charter.
- In 2018, the state legislature adopted a resolution (ACR-260) recommending gender-inclusive language in policy and law.
- In 2017, the state legislature enacted the Gender Recognition Act, which recognizes “nonbinary” as a gender marker on state-issued identification.
- In 2019, the City of Berkeley implemented gender-neutral language in government.
- In 2021, the City of San Diego adopted gender-neutral language in city documents.
Articles 15 and 16 in the Oakland City Charter outline the provisions of the pension and retirement system of Oakland police officers and firefighters, respectively. In 1951, these separate articles were combined into one system, the Police and Fire Retirement System, in Article 26. Despite the fact that Articles 15 and 16 are no longer valid, the language wasn’t removed from the document. Measure R would correct this historical oversight.
The Oakland City Council placed this measure on the ballot through a resolution in October 2020. This measure requires a simple majority vote (50% plus one vote) to pass.
This amendment would impact women and transgender, nonbinary, pangender, intersex, genderqueer, agender and two-spirit people, or anyone who falls outside of the traditional male or female pronouns, by removing exclusionary language that implies a person who doesn’t identify with binary pronouns is unfit to hold office or work for city government. Passing the amendment would ensure that the language of the City Charter is broad enough to encompass all individuals within the City of Oakland, regardless of their gender identity.
- Adopting gender-neutral language would ensure that all individuals are recognized in Oakland’s City Charter.
- Measure R, if passed, could continue to set a precedent for inclusionary language in city governments in California and elsewhere in the country.
- This measure would help to clean up the City Charter by removing sections that have not been valid for decades.
- SPUR could not identify any downsides to this measure.
Measure R seeks to replace outdated language and eliminate gender stereotyping of roles. People who don’t identify with traditional binary pronouns hold positions in Oakland’s government, and the current language in the charter is not inclusive of the diverse makeup of staff. This measure would ensure that all individuals, regardless of their gender identity, are properly included and acknowledged for their roles.
SPUR supports an equitable Bay Area for all and believes that the language of our laws should reflect this inclusivity.
 Oakland City Council, Resolution No. 89280, June 23, 2022, https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Reso-89280-Gender-Inclusive-Language-filed-materials_2022-07-30-032300_spsl.pdf.
 BallotPedia, “California Proposition 11, Gender-Neutral Language in State Constitution Amendment (1974),” https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_11,_Gender-Neutral_Language_in_State_Constitution_Amendment_(1974).
 Open States, “ACR 260,” 2018, https://openstates.org/ca/bills/20172018/ACR260/.
 California Legislative Information, “SB-179: Gender Identity: Female, Male, or Nonbinary,” https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB179.
 Dee Williams-Ridley, “Referral Response: Berkeley Municipal Code Revision Related to the Use of Gender Neutral Language,” Berkeley Office of the City Manager, July 26, 2019, https://newspack-berkeleyside-cityside.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uplo….
 “Council President Campbell and Councilmember Campillo Win Full City Council Approval for New Inclusive Language Policy,” press release, November 2, 2021, https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/cd7newsrelease211101.pdf.