Some practice it, others don't - and time and again gendering triggers heated debates. In Hamburg, citizens are now to vote on the subject for the first time. The state returning officer of the Hanseatic city is currently examining the admissibility of the popular initiative "End gender language in administration and education".
The head of the movement is the art and psychotherapist Sabine Mertens, who is also a board member of the German Language Association. According to its own statements, the people's initiative is fighting against the "mutilation of the language". "We want to let the citizens speak because the Hamburg administration has been changing us from above for years," says Mertens. Terms like “citizens” are “propaganda language of a radically queer feminist world view”. Furthermore, comprehensibility is lost through gendering. Mertens and her colleagues believe that an overwhelming majority opposes gender.
Mertens is no stranger: the author had sued a publisher in Bonn in proceedings at the Hamburg Regional Court because the publisher's magazine "Training aktuell" had made the term "draft artist" a "drawing person" without her consent was. On the other hand, the author had sued with reference to copyright and demanded monetary compensation. The lawsuit ended in a settlement.
Already the announcement of the possible popular initiative caused a mixed response in politics. The leader of the opposition in the citizenship, CDU faction leader Dennis Thering, "rejects to impose a grammatically incorrect language on people." Language is alive and constantly evolving, but it is not dictated by a minority.
According to Thering, the planned popular initiative against gendering in educational institutions and authorities "touches a nerve with many people" in Hamburg, "since they cannot do anything with the actual compulsion to use the wrong language". The citizens have other worries "than this culture war imposed by Red-Green about the German language". The CDU is therefore calling on the Senate to "put an immediate end to this spook before a referendum".
The popular initiative also receives support from the FDP. According to Deputy Head of State Sonja Jacobsen, “authority language is seldom nice, but official language that distances itself further and further from the reality of everyday language risks alienating citizens and the state”. In her environment, Jacobsen perceives “that gendering gets on the nerves of many”. When it comes to the vote, Jacobsen assumes "that the majority of Hamburg's population will speak out against gender."
Deputy AfD parliamentary group leader Alexander Wolf says: “This artificial language imposed from above is one of the most dangerous green ideology projects. It is anti-freedom and anti-democratic and divides society.” The German language is beautiful, complex and must continue to develop freely.
If the popular initiative is approved, the initiators must first collect 10,000 signatures from February. The second step is the hurdle of 65,000 signatures, only then could a vote on “End gender language in administration and education” take place in 2025.
In the ranks of the red-green coalition, SPD spokeswoman Gabi Dobusch observed “that more and more people are trying to use gender-sensitive language”. The SPD shares this concern and implements it in its communication. While red-green already changed in the coalition agreement concluded in 2020, since the Senate's recommendations for action in 2021, the administration has been using "a variable language that gives the people involved every opportunity," says Dobusch. That's a good way.
From the point of view of the equality expert of the Greens, Mareike Engels, "it is a sign of respect and politeness to address people in the way they want to be addressed - be it men, women or people who do not feel like they belong to either gender". She adds: "The recommendations of the Senate on gender-sensitive language mean real progress, as they create the opportunity to address people in their differences respectfully and without discrimination." The judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court of 2017 on the so-called third gender "supports our course". .