Should Philadelphia boot gender-based references from the city charter? (Ballot question)

The move would stop assuming the mayor and school superintendent will always be a man.

Rian Watkins for Billy Penn


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Philadelphia’s governing documents are filled with male pronouns. They were written half a century ago, so the wording isn’t exactly a surprise. But it is outdated.

The Home Rule Charter, adopted in the 1950s, uses “he” and “him” to refer to the mayor, and calls firefighters “firemen.” The educational supplement, adopted in the ’60s, uses male pronouns for the superintendent and president of the Board of Education.

Two questions on the May primary ballot ask you to decide if Philly should retire these male-centric terms and pronouns, and replace them in the official documents with gender-neutral alternatives.

Should The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to remove all gender-based references?

And, as a separate question:

Should the Educational Supplement to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to remove all gender-based references?

Although these two ballot questions effectively ask the same thing, they’re separate because they affect what are technically two separate documents.

Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter is the document that outlines how the city governs itself – essentially Philly’s constitution. The Educational Supplement is the piece of the charter that sets rules for Philly public schools and the Board of Education.

Voting yes on each of the measures means you’d like to see edits that would remove all gender-based references from the document named in the question. For example, the term “policemen” would become “police officers,” and any references to the mayor using the pronoun “he” would be changed to “the Mayor.”

Voting no means you’d like to keep the existing language.

The legislation to add the questions to the May ballot passed unanimously in City Council in February.

“Words matter,” the bills’ sponsor, Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, said at the time. “And when words are gendered, particularly in formal governing documents like our Home Rule Charter, it can have unintended consequences, such as implying that all police officers and firefighters are men.”

Some gendered references have already been removed from the charter. In 2019, a majority of Philly voters chose to adopt a measure that changed references to lawmakers serving on City Council, changing charter language from “councilman” to “councilmember” and “councilmanic” to “council.”

Who’s for it

Who’s against it

  • Billy Penn did not identify any public figures or organized groups against this measure

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