Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon and Senator Betty Little Announce Introduction of Bi-partisan Gender Neutral Bill to Update Antiquated Firefighter & Police Officer Language

Albany, NY – On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn) and Senator Betty Little (R-Glens Falls) announced the introduction of gender neutral legislation (A8321/S6542) to update antiquated and inaccurate language in state law relating to police officers and firefighters. The bill would replace all instances of the words “fireman” or “policeman” with the words “firefighter” or “police officer” in order to update language and promote participation in the professions regardless of gender. They were joined by other state legislators and representatives from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD), FDNY Fire Fighter Jackie-Michelle Martinez and NYPD Captain Lavonda Wise.

This bill modernizes the outdated language in the state statue to promote the idea that the professions of law enforcement and firefighting are not exclusive based on gender, and to reflect the current reality of the women who hold professions in law enforcement and firefighting. Stamping out gender-specific language will ensure that professions that were once seen as nontraditional for women are more likely to appeal to all people, regardless of gender, and will ensure the broad inclusion of women in every aspect of the police and fire departments.

Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon said, “The use of the gendered language ‘fireman’ or ‘policeman’ is antiquated and inaccurate. It promotes an outdated worldview that suggests to young girls and young boys alike that law enforcement and firefighting are only open to men. This bill updates our laws to use gender neutral language and acknowledges the brave female firefighters and police officers who risk their lives to keep us safe every day. This simple update to our state laws can cause a profound change in how we perceive these professions and can help us create a more inclusive safety force.”

“When I was a young woman, there were just a handful of professions from which to choose,” said Senator Betty Little. “I chose to become a teacher and I loved it, though looking back I would have liked to have explored other options. Today’s world, thankfully, is much different for women and much better for us all. Women proudly and bravely serve as police officers and firefighters and do an outstanding job in their communities. The terms ‘fireman’ and ‘policeman’ are vestiges that are easily changed in statute. Doing so is more than a symbolic act, but simply the right thing.”

“As more female Firefighters join our ranks, it’s important that the language of state laws is inclusive and accurately reflects FDNY’s growing diversity,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “This update is long overdue and serves as a well-deserved show of respect to the many women who already bravely serve our city, and the more than 9,000 who have filed to take the upcoming FDNY Firefighter Open Competitive Exam.”

New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said, "The NYPD has adopted gender-neutral references to our personnel well over thirty years ago. All uniformed members of the Department are referred to as Police Officers, as opposed to the prior designations of Patrolman or Policewoman. We welcome the formal adoption of this policy."

Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Chair of the Legislative Women's Caucus, said, “This is groundbreaking legislation that is absolutely imperative to how we all address inequality in this country and it starts here in New York State. Firefighter and police officer are gender neutral terms for brave and honorable individuals that work for public safety and don’t exclude any gender. The use of fireman/men and policeman/men are outdated and doesn’t promote an inclusive and welcoming environment for women in those workforces. It’s a small yet significant change in the use of language and passing this legislation is the right thing to do.”

“The ability of language to modify, limit, and expand what we think is possible can be profound. Changing our existing laws to use firefighters and police officers in gender inclusive terms will expand what people think is possible and encourage participation in the professions regardless of gender,” said Assembly Member Shelley Mayer, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Women’s Issues. “Our firefighters and police officers do great and honorable work throughout our state, and the professions offer careers with advancement opportunities. I am proud to support this bill and promote more women entering these fields.

“I am proud to support this piece of legislation that recognizes the gender diversity growing in our city’s first responders. There should be no room for old monikers and misconceptions about who wears the uniform of our police and fire departments. This bill is a full acknowledgment of the numerous women who proudly serve our communities and keep us safe,” said Assembly Member Maritza Davila.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas said, “I wholeheartedly support this bill which brings outdated aspects of the law into our modern world, a world where women are welcomed, recognized and appreciated for their hard work as police officers and firefighters. Gender-neutral words open doors to more women in these professions. Words can plant seeds of hope in little girls who would understandably think they couldn’t be a fireman or policeman.”

"It is important that we provide the same level of respect to female firefighters and police officers because they risk their lives every day," Assembly Member Amy Paulin said. "If we eliminate gender-specific language, these professions are more likely to appeal to all people regardless of their gender."

Assembly Member Barbara Lifton said, "As a former English teacher, I know how powerful words are, conveying our attitudes and values. When we hear "fireman" or, pertinent to my work world “Assemblyman,” we don't think of a woman; in our mind, we see a man, and it leads us to only imagine a man in those roles. It's critical that our words are gender-neutral so that all people are seen as candidates for any job on our society."

"It's about time that the law reflected the changed membership of New York City's finest and bravest, which have for years counted among their ranks many fine and brave women," said Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal. "With this change to the law, the women and men of the FDNY and NYPD will be equally represented in the law, and I thank my colleagues Jo Anne Simon and Betty Little for introducing this vital piece of legislation."

“I am pleased to join the movement against outdated gender references that are institutionalized in many industries, including our police and fire departments. The number of women in male-dominated fields has increased tremendously. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 47% of U.S. workers are women, and more than 39% of women work in occupations where women make up at least three-quarters of the workforce. It is important that this is reflected in the language used in the workplace and I commend Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon and Senator Betty Little for taking this crucial step in the right direction,” said Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.

Assembly Member Didi Barrett said, “The change in language that this bill proposes will finally recognize the work that has been done for decades by women in our fire and police departments, and it can only help remind our girls and young women of the professional possibilities open to them as a fire fighter or police officer. Since women around the world have attained the highest offices in government and private sectors, it's high time we made this transition to gender neutral titles in our emergency service and law enforcement professions.”