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BCP Council throws out calls for gender-neutral terms

DESPITE calls by councillors to “move with the times” and throw out gender-led language, BCP Council voted against a motion to stop using “male universals” like chairman.

A proposal by Cllr L-J Evans that the council instead adopt gender-neutral terms like chair was fiercely debated at length at the latest full council meeting.

She told fellow members: “We are discussing this because words matter. By de-gendering council language we avoid implying that one gender is the norm and help to tackle unconscious bias.

“Despite the headlines, I’m not suggesting anyone should use the title Ms, neither am I suggesting that we don’t use gender specific pronouns.”

Cllr Lisa Lewis, who seconded the motion, argued this was “more than a matter of political correctness” and that language powerfully reflects and influences attitudes.

Cllr Marion LePoidevin pointed out that it was not so long ago that honorific titles were routinely attached to the names of female councillors on council documents divulging their marital status. Male members were referred to simply by their names.

She said: “We are not saying we shouldn’t be recognised as male or female if that’s what we want, but that there shouldn’t be a particular role that goes with a particular gender, normally male.”

BCP Council at the town hall in Bournemouth (45959197)
BCP Council at the town hall in Bournemouth (45959197)

Some councillors were scathing of the move, including Cllr Tony O’Neill who took the council through a long list of “more important issues”.

“I do find it hard to believe that we are giving oxygen to this motion,” he said. “There is little wrong with the English language as it is currently observed.”

Cllr Ann Stribley said she would not want to be referred to as a chair, which was “generally a seat with four legs”, and wanted to continue with the tradition of “madam chairman”.

But Cllr Richard Burton criticised the council’s language as “old-fashioned and clumsy”.

He said: “If I was teaching one of my classes and I set up a debate and said to one of the girls, ‘we are going to call you chairman’, they would ask why, and I would say that’s because we’ve always done that.

“They would argue with me about it and they would say it isn’t fair and it’s old fashioned, and that’s a reason why our young people wouldn’t get involved in local politics.”

Some councillors said they had received emails from outraged members of the public questioning why the council was wasting its time on such a matter.

Cllr Evans said that in the past week, since the issue had “made headlines in the tabloid press”, she had been criticised for “my appearance, my weight, my gender, my sexuality and my intelligence”.

The motion said that “in accordance with its commitment to uphold the Equality Act 2010”, it will endeavour to remove gender specific determination when describing roles within the council, including male universals such as chairman.

Councillors voted 42-25 against the motion, with six abstentions.

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