Non-Binary Candidates Sue Brooklyn Dems Over Gender Designations

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

A group of non-binary political candidates have sued the Brooklyn Democratic Party and the city’s Board of Elections because their ballot petitions only allowed for male or female gender designations, demanding that the party drop gender parity rules originally intended to bring more women into the political sphere.

The six Brooklynites running for county committee membership of the party — the lowest rung of elected office — allege that the party and the government body violated their right to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, according to the April 3 lawsuit.

One plaintiff said he was disappointed by the lack of recognition for non-binary identities in the political process.

“For me as a trans person trying to engage with local politics, it was disheartening that there were only two options at county level,” said Derek Gaskill, who identifies as trans masculine. “You have to declare that you’re male or female.”

Gaskill and his fellow plaintiffs — who are vying to represent sections of Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant — all filled out petitions in March with signatures from local voters to run for county committee in the June and November elections. However, they left the gender field blank because the sheets only had the options of male or female.

The six prospective candidates identify across a spectrum of gender non-conforming identities, including non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, and transgender, according to the lawsuit, which was organized by the reform-oriented club New Kings Democrats.

They allege that the Board of Elections then filled out the gender designation without their consent, assigning them false genders based off of their names.

A spokesperson for the agency declined to comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiffs argue that the Kings County Democratic County Committee must strike down its gender parity rules, based off of state election law, which mandate that each county election district and each state assembly district must have a certain number of men and women representing the areas. For example, each assembly district has to be represented by one male and one female district leader.

While these rules were originally intended to encourage more women to join the historically male-dominated political leadership in the state they further the exclusion of non-binary people, according to Gaskill.

“I think it’s important to discuss and honor the progress that was made with these rules, but it’s equally important to remember that a lot of women’s rights movements have excluded trans people,” he said.

The Brooklyn party recently eliminated gender parity rules at the highest levels when top brass recently elected State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte as the new party boss to succeed Frank Seddio, making her the first woman to hold that position.

The rules had stated that the party’s executive committee chair (the technical title Bichotte now holds) and vice chair also needed to be from different genders, but the committee struck down that provision, allowing incumbent vice chair Annette Robinson, a former assemblymember, to remain in her position, the court documents note.

The plaintiffs argue that the party should not only drop these gender parity rules at its highest level but also for county committee membership — its broadest base of elected members at 1,881 female and 1,550 male members borough-wide.

“That the KCDCC would vote to rescind a sex parity rule as it applies to top leadership positions while maintaining a similarly inequitable rule for the lowest, broadest, and most democratic level of public engagement reflects arbitrary and capricious standards of rulemaking that adversely and disproportionately impact the non-binary, intersex, and transgender county committee members at the ground floor of the organization,” the suit says.

A spokesperson for the party also declined comment on the lawsuit beyond noting that the party is looking into the issue.

“We don’t comment on lawsuits but we are aware of it and it raises an important question,” said Bob Liff of George Arzt Communications in an email. “The same issue has come up in the Democratic state committee which is studying it and we are monitoring that.”

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