Bethesda Neighbors Wonder Whether Term ‘Citizens Association’ Sounds Non-Inclusive

Bethesda Neighbors Wonder Whether Term ‘Citizens Association’ Sounds Non-Inclusive

Community group ponders name change

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The Glenwood/Edgewood Citizens’ Association has nothing to do with U.S. immigration policy.

Their border debates center on whether the Glenbrook Knolls neighborhood belongs in their group.

But the charged national conversation on immigration has filtered down to the Bethesda organization in one particular way: It’s making the group reconsider its name.

Richard Hoye, a Lucas Lane resident, argues that using the word “citizen” in the association’s title leaves out community members who don’t have U.S. citizenship.

“It’s an exclusive term,” said Hoye, who brought his concerns to the association in October.

Hoye hasn’t always had a problem with the word. He served on the board of a citizens association in the mid-1990s, and he doesn’t remember thinking twice about the term. But the increasing diversity of his neighborhood and the intensifying vitriol in the national discourse around immigration have shifted his perspective, and the word feels more weighted to him now.

“The current climate of tribalism and the anti-immigrant sentiments that have been drummed up in national politics and in local politics have certainly been a factor in forcing me to reflect on my community and how representative and inclusive it really is,” Hoye said.

The fix is easy, Hoye says, pointing out the group could label itself a neighborhood or community association instead.

Members of the association, which is planning to vote on the name during its June 19 meeting, have spent a few months discussing and researching the issue, according to Meri Kahan, the group’s vice president.

Kahan wrote in an email that no one has expressed outright opposition to changing the name, although some are worried the group might lose local government recognition if they drop the term “citizen.” Others have said the term in this context doesn’t refer to nationality and relates to being a resident of a particular neighborhood.

“But again, at the end of the day, the goal is for everyone to feel welcome,” Kahan wrote.

She explained that neighbors recently began reviving the association after it had been dormant for about a decade. Loosely defined, it covers the areas north and south of Congregation Beth El on Old Georgetown Road, she said. 

Andres Felipe Jimenez, a Bethesda resident who’s in the country on his wife’s student visa, says the term “citizen”—even in the name of a civic group—absolutely calls nationality to mind.

“If you tell me, ‘Hey, we’re going to do a meeting for citizens of this area,’ I would say, ‘I’m not a citizen of the U.S. I’m just a resident here with a visa, so I think I’m not the person to go to that meeting,’ ” he said.

Jimenez and his wife are from Colombia but moved to Bethesda in December 2016 so he could pursue a medical license in the U.S. and she could attend school. He heard about the debate over the association name from Hoye, who’s the visa sponsor for Jimenez’s wife, and is planning on attending the group’s June meeting to weigh in.

The Montgomery County Planning Department maintains a list of hundreds of community groups and homeowners associations across the county. Only about 120 of them include the term “citizen” in their title, and many others use the words “civic,” “community,” or “neighborhood” instead.

Danila Sheveiko, vice president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, a coalition of community groups across the region, said his own neighborhood association engaged in a similar name transition about a decade ago. Residents of his Kensington Heights community eliminated the word “citizen” from their group name to promote inclusivity and haven’t run across any difficulties related to the switch, he said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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