Brooklyn Dems inch toward allowing gender nonbinary candidates

brooklyn dems gender task force
Members of the gender task force at a virtual meeting on Dec. 20.

Brooklyn Democrats moved one step closer to allowing gender nonbinary people to run for the borough party’s lowest rung of elected office at a Sunday meeting.

The party’s Task Force on Gender Discrimination and Representation voted unanimously to remove gender requirements from county committee seats, which currently have to be evenly split among male and female members — effectively excluding politicos that don’t identify on the gender binary.

“We know that for decades many people in our communities have been silenced, marginalized, and excluded because of their gender and with this change we will say, ‘No more, we see you,’” said task force member and Bushwick District Leader Samy Nemir-Olivares at the Dec. 20 virtual meeting. “Gender is deeply personal. No one should have to disclose that to represent their block in a political party and no one should have to every neighbor who they are or how do they identify while knocking on their doors.”

The proposal would eliminate a decades-old quota that evenly splits the two-to-four seats in each so-called election district — which cover just a few city blocks — between men and women. 

The regulations are based off of a 1938 State Constitution amendment, which was originally intended to encourage more women to enter the political fold, but presents a barrier to those who don’t identify with these gender designations.

One freshman Boerum Hill district leader on the task force, who ran on the female ticket this year but recently came out as nonbinary, said that the seats shouldn’t force politicos to claim a gender they don’t identify with. 

“Gender is a very personal and private topic for individuals, it’s also very fluid,” said Jesse Pierce.

Six Democrats sued the party in April to allow gender nonbinary people to run, but a Kings County Supreme Court judge tossed out that lawsuit on technicalities — yet the move prompted Brooklyn Democratic Party boss and Flatbush Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte to convene the task force in August to address the outdated rules.

“Our Task Force’s unanimous recommendation that we remove gender designations as a requirement to run for office is not only the right decision, it is the only acceptable decision,” Bichotte said Monday. “No one should be barred from participating in our party and we have now set a precedent for progress for Democrats across the nation.”

The group met 10 times to discuss how to best address the gender rule, with presentations by academics and testimony from hundreds of people over the following months.

Last month, the task force passed a recommendation to create 84 gender-neutral slots for Brooklynites to be appointed by the party’s 42-member executive committee, while at the same time consolidating power among leaders to fill more than 2,000 vacant remaining seats, a move progressives described as a “pink-washed power grab.” A Kings County Supreme Court Judge on Dec. 10 voided all those appointments, declaring them in violation of state Election Law.

During Sunday night’s meeting, one task force member initially advocated for approving a different proposal which would have reserved one seat per district for women, saying that some corners of the borough might otherwise see a resurgence of male dominance.

“Doing away with the protections for females in this case, actually I believe, impacts some [election districts] more than others because this rule is what actually forces the male-dominated political structure to actually encourage and recruit women into this process,” said Lisa Fane, a self-described lesbian activist.

However, other members countered that more women tend to run for the local offices than men already, meaning that eliminating the seats designated for men will lead to more female representation, and that the party should not have a seat ostensibly to empower women, while still disenfranchising nonbinary Brooklynites for that position.

“Yes, women must have better and more representation at all levels of politics,” said Nemir-Olivares. “But the way to achieve women’s participation doesn’t have to come at the expense of gender exclusion of the most marginalized.”

Once the majority of the 17-person panel voted in favor of the original proposal, Fane switched her vote in favor of that too, in order to have the measure pass without opposition, she said.

“I would really like to be able to make this a unanimous decision to the committee,” said Fane. “I think that will send a really strong message to the County Committee about how committed we are all in working together and in moving forward.”

The recommendation will come before the full county committee Wednesday — continuing from last week’s 13-hour recessed full meeting — and, if passed, will come into effect for the 2021 election cycle for those seats.