Retail stores in California may be required to become more gender-neutral under proposed legislation.
State lawmakers are debating a new bill that would prohibit department stores with more than 500 employees from dividing products for children by gender.
The restriction would ban separate areas and signage and mandate online retailers that have a physical location in the state use gender-neutral terms to label children’s items in a section of their websites. It would apply to toys and other kids’ items but not clothing at this time, the bill’s co-author Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia told USA Today.
If passed, the bill will go into effect in Jan. 1, 2024, and comes with a fine of $1,000 for violations.
The proposal, introduced Feb. 18, follows a series of recent moves championed by LGBTQ advocates. Last month, Hasbro made its Potato Head brand gender-neutral and the Congress passed an expansion of the Equality Act with protections for the LGBTQ community.
To Garcia, the legislation is about “not limiting ourselves and our kids into certain boxes.”
“It’s really important that toys and kids’ sections be neutral in order to give kids as many opportunities to flourish and develop and be creative,” said Garcia, a Democrat who leads the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “We should allow our kids to explore and try different things and let them come to their own conclusion of how they will identify themselves.”
Assemblyman Evan Low, another Democrat who first introduced a version of the California bill in 2020, said in a previous statement he was inspired by Britten, an 8-year-old child, to co-author the bill.
Britten, according to Low, asked, “Why should a store tell me what a girl’s shirt or toy is?”
“We need to let kids be kids,” Low, who leads the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, said. “Her bill will help children express themselves freely and without bias.”
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“Clothing and toys sections of department stores that are separated along gender lines pigeonhole children,” he added. “No child should feel stigmatized for wearing a dinosaur shirt or playing with a Barbie doll.”
The previous version of the bill was pulled by Low so the Legislature could focus on its response to the then-new coronavirus, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Some retailers have already adopted gender-neutral measures at their stores.
In 2015, Target announced the removal of indicators of gender from some of its sections, such as kids’ bedding and toys. Clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch launched a gender-neutral kids collection in 2018.
Advocates for the LGBTQ community stressed such measures are necessary because it is important that people be themselves and their self-identification is respected.
“How people self-identify is important to how they live in the world,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy and lobbying group, previously told USA TODAY.
David said progress has been made with recent pushes for inclusion.
“What we’re seeing is a combination of increased awareness and mobilization by our communities all over the country,” David said. “People understand that equality is a winning issue.”