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July 25, 2023

Pressley, Lee, Garcia Introduce Equality in Our Laws Act

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), alongside Representatives Summer Lee (PA-12), and Robert Garcia (CA-42), introduced the Equality in Our Laws Act, legislation that would enshrine gender equity in the U.S. legal code by replacing masculine generics with gender neutral language.

Additionally, this key change would make the U.S. Code more inclusive to members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially gender-nonconforming, nonbinary, and intersex individuals. Similar efforts have already been successfully undertaken in several states, including Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Research shows that the use of masculine generics – the practice of using masculine nouns and pronouns (he/him/his) to refer to people of all genders – is not only reflective of sexist social structures, but can actually reinforce gender stereotypes and social discrimination. For example, a 2015 study found that men were perceived as more fitting for a high-status leadership position than women when a masculine job title was used. In a growing effort to counter such gender stereotyping and discrimination, organizations and governments are increasingly adopting gender-neutral language. Despite this, much of the U.S. Code (Code) still uses masculine generics. 

“At a time where gender equality has yet to be enshrined and recognized in our constitution, it is crucial we take every step necessary to codify dignity, humanity, and equality for all in our laws – and that includes the language we use. We must be intentional about including women and LGBTQ+ folks in our country’s legal code,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “I am proud to introduce the Equality in Our Laws Act with Representatives Lee and Garcia to help address the systemic discrimination in our country.”

“Words matter – especially the words that form the foundations of our country’s rule of law. It’s not shocking that, for generations, the US code intentionally wrote out women, Black, brown, queer and marginalized folks. What is shocking is that today, equality is enshrined into neither our laws nor our constitution–meaning neither our laws nor our constitution protects all people,” said Congresswoman Lee. “In 2023 it is unacceptable that the US code perpetuates sexist social structures and reinforces gender stereotypes and social discrimination. The Equality in Our Laws Act will enshrine gender equality into the U.S. Code and send a clear message that we won’t be silenced by the right wing politicians, judges, and media goons waging a full-on assault on women and queer folks. We’re organized and mobilized to make Equality in our Laws and in our Constitution.”

“America has long been a beacon of freedom and equality in the world. Yet, our legal code — the very foundation of our society — continues to use a language that isn’t reflective of the country’s diversity; it speaks in masculine generics, silencing women and folks who are a significant part of our diverse community. With the ‘Equality in Our Laws’ Act, we are taking a vital step towards rectifying this issue,” said Congressman Garcia. “The introduction of gender-neutral language throughout the U.S. Code will help ensure the law is truly representative of all Americans.”

Examples of revisions:

  • Rather than “he” use “the Secretary” when referring to the head of a federal agency
  • Rather than “fireman” use “firefighter”

The legislation would: 

  • Direct the Office of Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) to make non-substantive, gender-neutral revisions to the non-positive law portions of the Code; and
  • Direct OLRC to prepare a draft bill that makes non-substantive, gender-neutral revisions to the positive law portions of the Code

Endorsed by: Equal Rights Amendment Coalition, SisTers PGH