'Manhole' to 'Maintenance Hole': Berkeley Proposes Gender-Neutral Changes to City Code

2 min
A manhole - now officially to be termed a 'maintenance hole' - in Berkeley. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Under proposed changes to make Berkeley’s municipal code more gender inclusive, words such as "manhole" will be changed to "maintenance hole," "manpower" to "human effort" and "fraternity" to "collegiate Greek system residence."

The code will also be changed throughout to modify any masculine or feminine language to language using gender-neutral pronouns, like "they" or "them." The ordinance on the proposed revisions had its first reading before the City Council on Tuesday night. A second reading will be held next week.

The item passed with no discussion or comments, said Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who proposed the changes. Robinson said a growing social awareness of transgender and gender-fluid individuals had "brought to light the importance of non-binary gender inclusivity" in City Hall, and the language of city legislation.

"Our laws are for everyone, and our municipal code should reflect that. Women and nonbinary individuals are just as entitled to accurate representation," Robinson said in an email. "Having a male-centric municipal code is inaccurate and not reflective of our reality."

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Other terms that would change:

  • "Manmade" to "human-made" or "machine made"
  • "Pregnant" to "pregnant employee"
  • "Master" to "captain"
  • "Sportsman" to "hunters"
  • "Sister" or "brother" to "sibling"

" ... I’ve had interns and appointees on city commissions who use they/them pronouns, and to them this matters deeply," said Robinson, who identified as a cisgender, or non-transgender, male. "There’s power in language. This is a small move, but it matters."

The update to the Berkeley Municipal Code would cost an estimated $600, according to City Clerk Mark Numainville, and will be paid from the city’s existing contract with a publishing company.

Numainville, in his review of the proposed changes, cited guidance from the League of California Cities. The league distributes the guidance to California communities but doesn't know who has adopted it, said Catherine Carlton, president of the group's LGBT caucus.

Carlton said the idea behind the guidance was to tackle unconscious bias in words like fireman or policeman.

"I'm sure there's going to be someone who's criticizing this, 'Oh well, it's going too far.' But it is picking up those unconscious things that linger and making a conscious step forward to make sure that everyone does feel included," she said.

It's important for government to make these changes, she added: "When we do it, it shows the nonprofit and profit commercial world, 'Look, this is the way that we should be going.'"

Berkeley ordinances go into effect 30 days after they’ve been signed by all required parties, which likely means the one on gender-neutral language will go into effect by late August, said Matthai Chakko, assistant to the Berkeley city manager.

This post has been updated with comment from the League of California Cities.

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