As you may have noticed, the last two articles by board members have come from the Policy and By-law Committee, of which I am a member. So here comes another article addressing proposed bylaw changes to be addressed at the Annual Meeting.
On face value, these proposed changes are pretty straightforward, as they can be seen as a change in word use. There are seven word changes that are exactly the same: from “his or her” to “their.” I could stop there and we could likely move on to other bylaw amendments.
But I will not because there is much more to the issue than language. First of all, I think it’s important to reflect on the fact that it says both “his and her” and how that in itself was the result of determined women and others over generations committed to gender equity. For a male Gen Xer, it’s easy to take that struggle for granted.
Now it’s time to take those lessons and apply them to a new paradigm, in which more and more people are challenging the use of the gender binary (he and she, her and him, etc).
I was pleased to join the Brattleboro Food Co-op Board of Directors during this last year. One of main reasons was to be part of a progressive and compassionate, cooperative values-based organization. Over the years, I have learned and grown a lot from participating in this and other co-ops that are dedicated to building community and listening to the needs of their members.
At a board meeting before I joined, I read the bylaws, most of which didn’t really sink in at the time. What struck me most was the use of the gender binary “his and her.” A recent newcomer to the nuances of LGTBQ, I have been training my mind to not use the gender binary when referring to friends and community members. And so those words really jumped out at me.
I was both pleased and surprised when I brought up the issue as other Board members were supportive of the change while also being a little unclear as to what the problem was. We were able to have a good discussion and share valuable resources of non-gendered pronouns. While this article isn’t the place for a long discourse, I will share a brief summary and some resources. Davey Shlasko of Thinkagaintraining.com has developed several great resources on the topic, and they say:
“Some people who fall under the broad definition of trans have gender identities other than man or woman. People describe these identities as non-binary, genderqueer, non-gendered, gender-fluid, and many other terms…Some (not all) people who experiences our genders in these ways ask people to avoid binary gendered language when referring to us, including the third person pronouns “he” and “she.” Other people use “they” as a genderneutral singular alternative, and this has proved comparatively easy for trans allies to respect.”
I admit that it can be confusing to be using what we are used to understanding as a plural pronoun, as in “They should be home soon,” when referring to a singular person. With a little practice and understanding of how uncomfortable the gender binary makes people feel, we can quickly adapt. I have also tried, to some success, using people’s names instead of pronouns, as in “Richard should be home soon.” That avoids confusion and was a good step for me in moving towards breaking my habit of using gendered pronouns.
A final note is regarding another example of the Brattleboro Co-op’s work to be a more inclusive and safe space for its members and others from the community. While the bathrooms on the lower floor are gender binary, there are gender neutral bathrooms upstairs. While not ideal, this was arrived at due to issues experienced in the old store, namely long lines, stealing behind locked doors, etc. “We very much want all of the members of our community to feel welcome in our Co-op, and will continue to do what we can, within our means, to achieve that goal,” says GM Sabine Rhyne.
As a board of directors we have had multiple discussions of the challenges of using nongendered pronouns and non-gender bathrooms. Below is one example of the seven bylaw changes using a non-gendered pronoun.
From Section 5.1, the second sentence says:
The powers and duties of the Board shall include, but not be limited to, engaging a general manager and monitoring and evaluating his or her performance, overseeing the operations of the Co-op, establishing budgets and fiscal controls, securing good conditions of employment and assuring that the purpose, mission and principles of the Co-op are properly carried out.
Our proposal would change the “his or her” to “their” and read as follows:
The powers and duties of the Board shall include, but not be limited to, engaging a general manager and monitoring and evaluating their performance, overseeing the operations of the Co-op, establishing budgets and fiscal controls, securing good conditions of employment and assuring that the purpose, mission and principles of the Co-op are properly carried out.
Also: another, non-related by-law change. While we will be discussing this proposal at our July 10th Board meeting and with our attorney, we wanted to get this proposal out to you all. Below is the bylaw as it exists, with the proposed additions in parenthesis to reflect current practices in which our bylaws are most often changed via ballot through mail, email, etc.
Section 12.2 – Amendment. These by-laws may be amended or repealed only by action of a shareholder meeting, provided that proposed amendments are stated or fully described in the notice of the meeting at which the amendments are to be adopted, (or by a vote as outlined in Section 4.1a Election Guidelines).
The collection of proposed bylaw changes will be clearly articulated in future Food For Thought editions and on the ballot. Please ask questions and/or offer your feedback and suggestions.
by Richard Berkfield