Southend Council to adopt gender neutral language

Terms such as chairman and references to a person’s marital status could soon become a thing of the past at Southend Council after the cabinet voted to adopt “gender neutral” language.

The move means that titles such as “chairman” and “Mrs” will be abandoned in favour of more neutral terms such as “chair”.

The suggestion to make the change came from Labour councillor Helen McDonald, who said that continuing to use gender-specific language can be “interpreted as biased, discriminatory or demeaning by implying that one sex or social gender is the norm”.

She added it can also give the impression the council is “only accessible to certain people” and will discourage women and minority groups from engaging in local politics.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon, council leader Councillor Ian Gilbert said: “I believe this is long overdue personally and I believe in principle that within reason you should address people in the way they wish to be addressed. Therefore, I think this should be supported in principle.”

Deputy leader Cllr Ron Woodley added: “I don’t see a problem with this, there will be some going back to the old ways who are yet to accept these thing but I don’t see a problem with what we are doing here.”

Labour councillor Matt Dent, who is not a member of the council, but seconded the motion, also spoke at the meeting and told councillors it would represent a “move into the 21st century”.

He said: “This is about the principle of calling people what they want to be called. I think this is necessary n our pursuit of making council accessible to as many people as possible and I think we need to make sure we are doing that in everything we do.

“Moving from chairman to chair seems beyond obvious to me.”

Under the agreed proposals, the council will remove all universal male terms from its policies and communications, as well as end the use of language that suggests a person’s marital status. Gender-neutral language will also be used where an individual’s sex is not relevant or not known.

The motion did also propose removing male terms from the council’s constitution but Mr Gilbert said this would be a matter for the full council rather than the cabinet.

Before the meeting, the proposal gained support from the LGBTQ+ community, with Dan Turpin, co-chair of Southend Pride calling it a “massively positive move” that could “encourage more women to put themselves forward” for positions at the council.

The agreement by council leaders means Southend is following in the footsteps of authorities in Gloucestershire and Oxford which have also agreed to use gender-neutral language.

Brighton and Hove Council has also launched a scheme which involved badges being handed out to offer workers an easy way to let others know their gender identity.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter