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New York City is just the latest to prohibit discrimination based on weight and height, but other places are considering similar legislation.
Inside stores like PlusBKLYN, size doesn't matter. But outside its doors, that's not always the case. As the chair of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), Tigress Osborn says she hears stories every day.
"We heard from somebody who was having a problem with a landlord because the downstairs neighbors were saying that fat lady's footsteps are too heavy and the landlord was threatening to evict her because of it," Osborn said.
It's why she was thrilled when New York City became the latest city in the U.S. to pass a bill banning the discrimination of weight and height in regards to employment, housing and access to public accommodations.
"Having it done in New York, it's a signal to the rest of the world that the time is now," Osborn said.
In the United States, it's illegal to discriminate against someone's national origin, race, color, religion, disability, sex or familial status. What's not included on that list are physical attributes.
"A lot of our advocacy work is focused on raising the national conversation about the need for legislation," Osborn said.
According to the American Psychological Association, 42% of U.S. adults in 2022 said they have faced some form of weight stigma in their lives. Only six other cities have similar discrimination laws to what New York City just passed:
- Binghamton, New York
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Urbana, Illinois
- Washington, D.C.
- San Francisco, California
- Santa Cruz, California
As for state laws, Michigan is the only place to ban it statewide. However, states like New Jersey and Massachusetts have introduced similar legislation.
"There are already a few states that have pending bills and we know that there are at least a couple more coming in the next year," Osborn said.
New York Attorney Peter Sverd works on human rights cases. He says the goals of laws like these are not to inundate court systems, but rather to inspire change from companies, organizations and city entities who fall within city limits.
"The chilling effect of the law itself will trigger a widespread changing of policies and practices to stave off any potential claims," Sverd said. "The city of New York has extended and expanded civil rights to different groups of people that go beyond what is provided for under state law and federal law."
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He says people will be able to take alleged violators to civil court, but there are also protections if a person's weight or height would prevent them from performing a job's essential duties.
"The person who works at the front door security for a major nightclub in Manhattan, needs to have a certain strength, height, weight," Sverd said. "The law does not require ineffective people to be put in situations to fail. That's not good for the business, it's not good for the public and frankly it's not good for the worker."
The law in New York is supposed to take effect in November. While more cities and states consider following suit, organizations like NAAFA continue to work to remove the stigma around weight.
"Since 1969 we have worked on trying to change people's perceptions of what fat is, of what fat people are like, and advocating for fat people," Osborn said.
In this era of body positive movements, Tigress says this is another step toward a more inclusive society.
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