After years of cultural clashes over the use of the gender-neutral term "Latinx," a group of Connecticut lawmakers is hoping to banish the word from the state's lexicon.
A bill filed recently by five Hispanic lawmakers would prohibit state agencies from using Latinx in any official communications and documents. The bill's chief sponsor, state Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-Waterbury, argued that the term alienates native-Spanish speakers, particularly members of Connecticut's sizeable Puerto Rican population .
The use of Latinx as an alternative to typical gendered nouns such as "Latino" and "Latina" has divided many Hispanics and Spanish-speakers in recent years, with some, such as Reyes, describing it as an example of "woke" terminology being promoted mostly by white activists. Others say that the term offers inclusive language for people who do not identify with either gender, and that it has been gaining in popularity particularly among younger speakers.
Earlier this month, Arkansas became the first state known to ban government officials from using Latinx on formal documents as part of several orders issued by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders within hours of her taking office.
While Reyes said that he believed Sanders, a Republican, had "other motivations" for banning the term, he said it nonetheless sparked his decision to draft similar legislation in Connecticut.
"This has been offensive and derogatory to all Puerto Ricans, and it's something that hasn't sat well with a lot of people here for a while." Reyes told CT Insider. "When I found out that Arkansas Gov. [Sanders] banned it on her first day in the office, I saw that as an opportunity for me to do the same thing."
Along with Reyes, the four other members sponsoring the bill are all Democrats and members of the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus: state Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, Rep. Juan R. Candelaria, D-New Haven, Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Haven, and Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford.
The controversy over the term even exists among the Hispanic LGBTQ community, according to Juancarlos Soto, the active executive director of the New Haven Pride Center.
Soto, who was born in Puerto Rico, said that he and several of his friends have opted to instead use "Latine" as a gender-neutral term, saying the pronunciation (lah-tee-ney) comes more naturally to Spanish-speakers.
"Latinx just feels a little bit different, and it feels a little bit more Anglo-Saxon." Soto said. "It just feels like it's this thing that non-Hispanic or non-Latino people sort of try to come in and tell us to use."
A 2019 survey of Hispanic adults by Pew Research found that just 3 percent reported using Latinx themselves while more than three-quarters had never heard of the term. Among those who were familiar with the term, a majority said they preferred other general terms such as Hispanic and Latino to describe the population. The survey did not ask respondents about other terms, such as Latine.
That same year, the League of United Latin American Citizens, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization, dropped the use of Latinx , citing its unpopularity. Other advocacy groups, including UnidosUS, continue to use the term .
Soto said he did not see the need for legislation to prohibit state agencies from using the word, adding that doing so could have negative consequences for the minority of people who identify as Latinx.
"I don't believe that the intent here is to diminish harm or invalidate someone who may be nonbinary, but I feel like it has a little bit of that impact," Soto said.
Reyes said that while he and others pushing for the bill do not intend to offend transgender or nonbinary people, the use of Latinx by government officials is seen as inappropriate by the wider Hispanic community.
At the Hispanic Coalition for Greater Waterbury, for example, Executive Director Victor Lopez Jr. said he has, on occasion, used Latinx in promotional materials for events geared toward a younger audience — though he personally said he found the term "a bit disrespectful."
"I get the younger population who, again, they're trying to be engaging and they're trying to be inclusive," Lopez said before noting that other widely used terms such as Latin and Hispanic are already gender-neutral.
"If you're looking at official documents, it has to abide by the Spanish language," Lopez said. "There's no Latinx."
While the Associated Press reported that officials in Arkansas appear to have made limited use of the term, a search on Connecticut's government website reveals numerous examples of "Latinx" being used in public reports, flyers, forms webinars and other publications.
Michelle Dumas Keuler, an attorney for the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the state's enforcement agency for civil rights laws, said the agency allows people to self-identify their ethnic background when making a complaint about housing, employment or other types of discrimination, and will use Latinx, Latine or other terms if requested.
"We concede to the person, so it's not as if we have a policy, which would be difficult to have frankly," Keuler said.
Reyes said he has yet to speak to Gov. Ned Lamont or his staff regarding the bill, though he said he expects it will get a hearing during the current legislative session. Lamont’s spokesman Adam Joseph said Wednesday the governor’s office would continue to follow the debate as the bill moves through the legislature.
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