Judge Tosses Gender Non-Binary Challenge to Brooklyn Dems

Derek Gaskill, who identifies as trans masculine, was one of six plaintiffs suing the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
Courtesy of Derek Gaskill

A Brooklyn Supreme Court justice dismissed a lawsuit against the Brooklyn Democratic Party by six gender non-binary or transgender candidates for local offices on April 29, citing procedural issues and finding that the aspiring politicians filed their case too late in the current election cycle.

Justice Edgar Walker declined to rule on whether the gender parity rules by the party and state election law violated the constitutional rights of the candidates — who identify across a spectrum of identities, including non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, and transgender.

The six political hopefuls filed ballot applications to run for County Committee membership, the lowest rung of elected office which represents a handful of blocks known as election districts, in the June 23 election.

The rules of the Kings County Democratic County Committee (KCDCC) require that candidates file to run as either a “Male Member” or a “Female Member,” in order to adhere with the state election law’s gender parity rules originally intended to bring more women into political leadership.

The candidates refused to choose between the male and female positions, because doing so, they said, would not align with their gender identity, which caused the city’s Board of Elections to invalidate their ballot petitions.

Justice Walker said that the April 3 lawsuit, organized by the reform-oriented New Kings Democrats, effectively asks the court to create a third position without a gender designation, but found there’s “no express statutory authority that allows a court to modify and/or create a new public office or party position” in state election law.

Walker, however, was sympathetic toward the issue and said that the party could adopt a rule change itself at its next meeting in September. If it adopts the existing framework without change, he encouraged plaintiffs to bring forth their case again with more time ahead of the 2022 races.

“In the event that KCDCC adopts the same party rule at its next organizational meeting, this court would indeed encourage petitioners to promptly bring a declaratory judgment action after the adoption of said rule and, more importantly, before the filing of the Party Call, to allow for a full adjudication on the merits,” Walker wrote.

The six candidates sued the party, alleging that allowing them to run for county committee only if they declared themselves either a male or a female violated their constitutional rights.

During court proceedings, the party’s lawyers asked for the court to dismiss the case, saying that the party acted in accordance with state election law. The Brooklyn Dems also argued that they had a legal right to exclude whomever they wanted from the party, without infringing on the candidates’ rights.

After the ruling, the New Kings Democrats called on the party to recognize gender as a spectrum beyond male and female, and more than 500 party members and elected officials have already signed on to a statement in support of non-binary candidates.

A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party said its leaders were supportive of wider inclusion in the party, but that they were deferring to their state counterparts, who are currently studying the issue.

“We are clearly empathetic to the argument to expand inclusion, which drove the addition of the male-female gender parity requirement in the first place, said Bob Liff of George Arzt Communications. “We are closely monitoring the State Committee deliberations over this issue.”

Jessica Thurston, the vice president for political affairs at New Kings Democrats, suggested the party could just change its own rules, taking a nod from Manhattan, where the local Democratic party does not require candidates run as a male or female candidate for county committee.

“The easiest way is to mimic the way of the Manhattan party and to just not have gender designation rules at all,” Thurston said.

This story was originally published in brooklynpaper.com. To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.