Yesterday, a judge dismissed the claims of six candidates for Brooklyn’s Democratic County Committee who had filed a lawsuit on the basis of gender discrimination. But he dismissed the case on procedural grounds only — he was sympathetic to the issues raised and put the party on notice by encouraging the plaintiffs to refile their constitutional claims if the problem is not addressed.
Now it is time to change the state law and party rules so that New Yorkers of all genders can participate fully in our democratic systems.
According to the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s current rules, all County Committee seats are designated as either “male” or “female”, categorically excluding non-binary candidates. Additionally, transgender people who do not have the resources to match their gender with their legal markers participate in this system at great risk.
This year, seven transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary (TGNCNB) candidates chose to run as “County Committee Member” without designating a gender and were disqualified by the Board of Elections on April 22. The next day six of them challenged their disqualification - and the Party’s discriminatory rule - in court.
As the case played out, it illustrated some of the Brooklyn Democratic Party leadership’s alarming views about who can be part of the party — and who can be excluded.
In its motion to dismiss this lawsuit, the party made the case that the rights of TGNCNB candidates are not protected by the State Human Rights Law, arguing that “the prohibition against discrimination only exists for an individual’s “actual or perceived sexual orientation” and not for one’s transgender, gender-nonconforming, genderfluid, non-binary, or gender dysphoria identity.” We know that discrimination based on gender identity became prohibited in New York State with the passage of GENDA in 2019 and we call on the Brooklyn Democratic Party to recognize that gender is a spectrum beyond “male” and “female”.
The party also argued that no one has a Constitutional right to run for office and that the Brooklyn Democratic Party has the right to exclude whoever it wants. We disagree and believe that the Democratic Party is stronger when we include everyone.
On April 29, the judge ruled that it was too late in the election cycle to rule on whether the laws and rules that deny TGNCNB people ballot access are unconstitutional. However, he encouraged them to refile their constitutional claims if the party does not change or remove the gender designation rule.
It’s clear many in the party think the rule must change — we’ve seen over 500 County Committee members and candidates, along with elected officials, other candidates, and organizations sign onto this statement in support of the TGNCNB candidates and a gender-inclusive party.
The decision is now up to party leadership. The Executive Committee of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party can change the rules now to allow ballot access for County Committee candidates of all gender identities in the future.
Alternatively, elected County Committee members can propose this amendment at the next County Committee meeting in September 2020. Doing so would allow for the six plaintiffs to be appointed onto the Committee right then and there.
It’s time for a gender-inclusive — and fully representative — Democratic Party in Brooklyn.
Amending the Brooklyn party’s rule would resolve this injustice in Brooklyn, but not in other New York counties where political parties have similar exclusionary rules. New Kings Democrats looks forward to working with its allies to explore strategies for ensuring the rights of political participation for TGNCNB candidates statewide.