California law would fine departments stores for separating toys by gender – Daily News

on Mar8
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A bill that would require large department stores to have gender-neutral toy departments or face a civil penalty of $1,000 is poised to make its way through the California Assembly, but an industry analyst said it will create yet another challenge for retailers as they struggle to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assembly Bill 1084, authored by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia, D-Downey, would apply to department stores with 500 or more employees.

Some news outlets have reported that the measure would require children’s clothing sections to be gender-neutral as well, but that proposal was removed from the legislation, according to Low.

“We dropped the clothing requirement to narrow the focus,” he said.

Where retail is headed

Although the legislation is sure to rankle some, Low said it represents where retail is already headed.

“I’ve been in conversations with multiple retailers,” he said. “Target is in support and they’ve been doing this since 2015. Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M, Old Navy, John Lewis and Zara have unisex apparel lines for kids.”

AB 1084 was introduced Feb. 18 and is waiting to be heard in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, which Low chairs, or the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“That will give people a chance to testify in support or opposition,” Low said. “We’ll also be able to answer questions at that time.”

‘A democratic process’

Low, who also chairs the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, said he’s not trying to force change on anyone.

“This is democratic process,” he said. “I’m in the business of ideas, and I’m trying to be responsible. We want to reflect a positive shopping experience by being inclusive. Diversity is a reality, but inclusion is a choice.”

Toy sections of department stores that are separated along gender lines pigeonhole children, Low said.

“We want to make sure that there’s no stigma around a little girl who wants to be a scientist or engineer, or a little boy who wants to be artistic and creative by painting his nails,” he said. “We see a lot of cyberbullying going on and stereotyping of certain gender norms.”

AB 1084 would prohibit the use of signs that designate whether specific items are for boys or girls, and it would require department stores that sell children’s toys online to dedicate a section of the website where the items are sold under the category “kids”, “unisex” or “gender neutral.”

Low authored a previous version of the bill (AB 2826) last year, but that legislation was ill-timed.

“When COVID-19 hit we were told to limit our legislation to bills that related to the the virus,” he said.

If AB 1084 is approved, stores that fail to correct a violation of the law within 30 days of receiving written notice would face a civil penalty of $1,000 beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

Bad timing?

Burt Flickinger III, managing director for the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said the timing of the bill could not be worse, as the U.S. is currently weathering the “worst retail ice age in modern history.”

The combination of COVID-19 related job losses, record-breaking taxes and price hikes for food, electricity, rent and other necessities, have left many consumers financially strapped, he said.

Those challenges, combined with rising e-commerce competition, have forced many companies to downsize their brick-and-mortar footprint or go out of business altogether.

“More regulations of any kind for retailers could be a proverbial prescription for more store closings,” Flickinger said. “I have not seen any fact-based evidence that the majority of shoppers are asking for this type of legislation.”

Low emphasized that the bill would only apply to large department stores.

“They can absorb this cost,” he said. “There was initially a controversy surrounding unisex bathrooms, but now people realize they don’t have to wait in such long lines. We recognize that society is ahead of us on this. We’re just trying to play catch-up.”

Mr. Potato Head

The trend of gender-neutrality arose recently when Hasbro announced it would drop the “Mr. from its Mr. Potato Head toy to be more inclusive so all could feel “welcome in the Potato Head world.”

The company backpedaled the same day its initial announcement was made, saying the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will live on, although the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” names will be less prominently displayed at the bottom of the box, instead of the top.

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