Replace gender-specific language in Town By-laws and records with gender-neutral language

Petitioner: Alex Coleman

Speicial Town Meeting, November 2017

(a) The Town By-Laws will be changed relative to the executive board of the Town and its members. The name of the executive board currently called the "board of
selectmen" will be stricken and replaced by "select board" and the terms currently used to refer to its members "selectman, selectmen, selectwoman, and selectwomen" will be stricken and replace by "select board member(s)" or "member(s) of the select board" in all places they appear in the Town By-laws and in all current active and future Town documents and communications.

(b) The Town By-laws will require the use of gender-neutral language in all currently active and further Town documents and communications

Petitioner's Description of Article's Purposes and Intent

This Warrant Article is intended to further implement and model the Town's commitment to inclusion and diversity particularly with respect to Brookline Protected Classes by using gender-neutral language. There is ever growing awareness that language really does make a difference when it comes to inclusion, appreciation for the benefits of diversity, and sending a message of welcome to all members of the Brookline community, particularly those in protected classes. The Office of and Commission for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations has increasingly adopted the practice of using gender-neutral language. Sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression are not binary. There are language conventions that we have used that are now outdated and counterproductive. This warrant article is intended to reflect our current awareness of the importance of language and the nature and value of inclusivity that gender-neutral language helps promote.

This Article would add Brookline to the ever growing number of towns that have changed the name of the Town's executive board from "Board of Selectmen" to "Select Board." In Chapter 87 of the Acts of 2015 the Legislature approved similar changes to the Charter of the City of Newton, striking "board of aldermen" and replacing with "city council"; striking "alderman" and replacing with "councilor"; and striking "committeeman" and replacing with "committee member." Many other Towns have made the change as well, including Amherst almost 20 years ago.

There is nothing to legally preclude the actions proposed by this warrant article under the laws of the Commonwealth and I have been so advised by a variety of Commonwealth officials, including among others, Assistant Attorney General Kelli Gunagan, the Secretary of State's Office attorney and its Elections Division. Furthermore, the Massachusetts General Court in its most recent Legislative Research and Drafting Manual, 5th edition, 2010 in Part 3 "Grammatical Issues" devotes section 2 to "Gender Neutral Drafting" in which it encourages the use of gender neutral language and offers some (now dated) guidance. There are resources within the Town and the Commonwealth that can provide guidance with respect to the use of gender-neutral language.

Official Town Meeting Vote Select Board Advisory Board

Favorable Action

Favorable Action

Favorable Action

Majority Vote



Final Result:

Favorable Action

Community Organization Recommendations
PAX Green Caucus
Official Text of the Article

VOTED: That the Town adopt the following resolution:

WHEREAS, the use of gender-neutral language by the Town can be expected to further enhance and demonstrate Brookline's commitment to being an inclusive, diverse and welcoming community; and

WHEREAS, ever-increasing awareness exists that language matters, and in particular with regard to the subtle and not so subtle, and intended and unintended consequences of language, including implicit or explicit bias; and

WHEREAS, the Town has been a leader in issues relating to gender identity and expression, including in defining the Town's protected classes; and

WHEREAS, there is ample precedent for and encouragement of the use of gender-neutral language by Massachusetts cities and towns; and

WHEREAS, linguistic conventions that differentiate and identify people by perceived gender may fail to respect the broad spectrum of sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression living, working and visiting our community; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, that the term "Board of Selectmen" shall be taken to mean "Select Board," the terms "Selectmen" and "Selectwomen" shall be taken to mean "Select Board Members," and the terms "Selectman" and "Selectwoman" shall be taken to mean "Select Board Member," in all currently active and future documents and communications originated by the Town, unless the context demands otherwise; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Town, including without limitation, its municipal officers, boards, committees and commissions, strive to use gender-neutral language, where appropriate and practicable, in all documents and communications pertaining to the business of the Town.…