New York City enacts law barring discrimination based on weight

"New York City is leading the nation with this groundbreaking anti-discrimination law."

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
New York City just enacted a law banning discrimination against height or weight. Mayor Eric Adams, who just slashed the city's budget by 5 percent across the board, signed the bill in the spring. This means that in addition to other protected characteristics like age, gender, race, or religion, a person's weight and height will also be considered protected identifiers under the law.

The law will bring fat discrimination under the jurisdiction of New York's Commission on Human Rights. This is the body that heads up discrimination issues for other identifiers and characteristics, such as LGBTQ, race, etc. Commissioner Annabel Palma said, at the time the bill was signed, that "Most forms of appearance-based discrimination have persisted unchecked."

The bill was sponsored by city councilman Shaun Abreu, who was inspired to propose the bill after gaining weight during the pandemic and noticing that people didn't treat him the same as when he weighed less. With a law like this in place, he believes that it will dissuade employers from discriminating against fat people.

"It's also about changing the culture in how we think about weight," he said. Lawmakers in Albany are considering bringing a law that mirrors the one in the Big Apple.

Adams spoke in favor of the bill. The mayor, a health-conscious vegan who undertook an overhaul of the city's public school lunch program and implemented a plant-based diet, said that "Science has shown that body type is not a connection to if you’re healthy or unhealthy. I think that’s a misnomer that we’re really dispelling."

Adams' 2020 book detailed his journey to losing 35 pounds, The New York Times reported.

Examples as to what weight discrimination looked like were given at a City Council meeting earlier in the year. A college student complained that the desks were too small. Under the new law, if she can prove that the small desks are a result of discrimination, she could likely sue the school. Another woman complained that "she had faced body shaming and pressure to develop an eating disorder."

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams praised the move, saying "All New Yorkers, regardless of their body shape or size, deserve to be protected from discrimination under the law. Body size discrimination affects millions of people every year, contributing to harmful disparities in medical treatment and outcomes, blocking people from access to opportunities in employment, housing and public accommodations, and deepening existing injustices that people face."

"New York City," she said, "is leading the nation with this groundbreaking anti-discrimination law."

The legal ramifications are of concern to business leaders. The New York Times quoted the president of the Partnership for New York City, who said that this law could be difficult for businesses to comply with, and could end up burdening the judicial system as well as regulators.

Fat activism and fat liberation have been a big deal in recent years, and its been received with some hesitation by the public at large. Victoria's Secret women's intimates company embraced fat acceptance and ended up with a marketing disaster. They had to turn back only a few years later. 

The bill was backed by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). Tigress Osborn, chair of that group, said  “This is such a powerful moment for anyone who has ever faced discrimination simply because of the size of their body."
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