By Guy Page
Following the resignation of a member of a Burlington Neighborhood Planning Assembly (NPA) over another member’s unwillingness to use preferred gender-related personal pronouns, the Burlington City Council Monday night approved a resolution to redraft NPA bylaws preventing ‘gender discrimination.’
Lee Morrigan is a biological female who identifies as non-binary. Jeff Comstock refuses to use assigned pronouns at the NPA meetings because he considers them an effort to impose an agenda on individuals and society at large. “I am determined not to let others ascribe my motivations to suit their agendas or let them redefine the language and require me to use it (a la 1984),” he told VDC today.
The NPAs are local advisory groups intended to increase citizen participation in civic matters. At a recent meeting of the Wards 4 & 7 (New North End) NPA steering committee, Morrigan and others tried at length to persuade fellow NPA member Jeff Comstock that it’s ‘disrespectful’ to refer to Morgan with female pronouns. When Comstock tried to explain that no disrespect is meant and that he has tried to use the name Lee rather than a pronoun, Morrigan claimed that’s still disrespectful because it’s avoiding the use of the preferred pronoun.
“I have a right to function as part of this steering committee, without having to, everytime we meet, make a choice: am I going to assert that I am not a woman, or am I going to acquiesce and be disrespected? No one here deserves that,” Morgan said. Morgan moved to Burlington after feeling unsafe in a previous city of residence.
The culmination of the exchange, beginning at the 14 minute mark on the recording, is transcribed below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity:
Morrigan: So why won’t you use my pronouns? Can you explain?
Comstock: Some folks are trying to impose their personal agendas on others. One of the concepts that I think this entire gender identity issue is failing at is the recognition of the concept that your rights end where my nose begins. There is an awful lot of cultural and social imposition of some people’s agendas on others in our society.”
Morrigan: I have a responsibility to keep myself safe. So what I’m hearing is that you are not going to use my pronouns, correct?
Comstock: And how does that impact your safety?
Morrigan: I’ve been explaining this for the past 20 minutes on how this impacts my wellbeing. You’re not going to use my pronouns, correct?
Morrigan: So I resign and I will be explaining to my community why. It has been an honor to serve the NPA and I would really like to continue but [audible sniff] I have a responsibility to take care of myself and maybe I should have done this a year ago, but I’m not going to stay on a body that doesn’t respect me enough to give me the same things that you all get, that I don’t get here, so I resign.
Other member: I think we’re going to face legal action.
Comstock: Well. that’s on me, that’s not on you.
Monday night, the Burlington City Council approved a resolution clarifying what constitutes discrimination on the NPA level, establishes a complaint process, and creates a pathway for removing members who fail to comply.