The Brooklyn Democratic Party boss has launched a task force that could recommend striking down rules that limit the amount of women and exclude non-binary candidates from serving in local party posts, but that task force, though it has strong queer representation, lacks transgender or non-binary members.
Party chair Rodneyse Bichotte, a state assemblymember who represents Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Midwood, on August 6 unveiled the task force, which includes Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn president Jared Arader, Lisa Fane, a former LID board member, as well as four local Democratic district leaders elected as out queer candidates — Josue Pierre, Julio Peña III, Jesse Pierce, and Samy Nemir-Olivares. Other members of the task force are former State Assemblymember Annette M. Robinson, who continues to serve as a district leader, City Council candidate Darma Diaz, and district leaders Nancy Tong, Edu Hermelyn, Josh Skaller, and Douglas M. Schneider.
Party chair appoints task force with queer reps, but fails to contact plaintiffs who challenged existing policy
The task force was created a little more than three months after a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge tossed a lawsuit lodged by six local candidates who targeted the Brooklyn Democratic Party for maintaining binary gender rules that call for the election of one man and one woman to serve on the county committee as Assembly district leaders. Those rules prevent non-binary candidates from participating — unless they are willing to designate a gender identity at odds with their true identity — and limits the amount of women who can serve, despite the fact that women now participate at greater proportions than men at the local level in Brooklyn politics. The one man/ one woman scheme was originally adopted to allow greater participation by women in local politics when traditional voting patterns limited the role they could play.
“As a new county chair my first priority is to expand voting rights and the ability for all to participate in our democracy and run for office, and that very much includes individuals in Brooklyn regardless of identification as binary — male or female, non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer, or transgender,” Bichotte said in a written statement announcing the task force.
In spite of that statement, the composition of the task force is notable for the lack of of non-binary or transgender members.
“Well, the chair, Ms. Bichotte, was trying to balance as diverse representation as possible, yet being limited in a practical sense to a manageable number of people,” Aaron D. Maslow, an election law attorney chairing the task force, said when asked by Gay City News about the lack of representation. “If you have some live meetings, you can get more people in there, but this is going to be on Zoom.”
Derek Gaskill, one of the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit dismissed earlier this year, said he was not contacted when the task force was created.
“I was a little surprised when I heard about it,” Gaskill told Gay City News on August 7. “I know some of the other plaintiffs didn’t hear of it either.”
Gaskill’s own bid for county committee was thwarted when his petition was invalidated after he did not declare a binary gender.
“I’m fortunate that we elected district leaders who are on it and who will represent us and understand our positions and experiences, but unfortunately there are no trans or non-binary people in the task force,” he said.
The judge who dismissed the suit on which which Gaskill was a plaintiff did not make a decision on the merits of the gender parity itself, ruling instead that procedural issues and timing were factors behind his action. The judge suggested that the party could act to change its rules at its September meeting.
Nemir-Olivares told Gay City News that the lawsuit represented the beginning of the effort to change the rules and he is optimistic that action will be taken to realign the rules with current understanding of society’s gender fluidity.
“It would be better if we had the voices of the non-binary or trans people who are most impacted by these rules,” he said. “I’m hopeful the leadership of the Democratic Party expands the task force in the coming weeks.”
He added, “I hope the rules are at least changed before the next election.”
Arader also voiced confidence that the rules will eventually be changed, saying he is “very happy and excited the chair wants to address this situation.”
Maslow explained that the task force will meet for the first time during the second week of August.
“We’ll invite recommendations of people outside the task force and hope to come up with something to propose to the county committee or the executive committee of the Brooklyn Democratic Party in the fall,” he said.
While Gaskill believes members of the task force will have the right intentions, he stressed that it still does not make up for the exclusion of the very demographic that the task force will be discussing.
“No recommendation should be provided without the full and direct participation of trans and non-binary people,” he said.
Bichotte did not respond to a request for comment.
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