Gender-fluid clothing entrepreneur Rob Smith opened the world’s first gender-free store in New York three years ago with an ambitious goal to spread his non-binary message and clothes into every retail space around the world. But this LGBTQ activist fashion designer has run into a problem. He can’t seem to get big-box retailers in the US to display his “The Phluid Project” line of clothes into their brick-and-mortar stores as much as he would like.
So under the guise of ridding big box stores of harmful gender stereotypes, Smith convinced the California Legislative LGBT Caucus Chair Evan Low (D-San Jose) to introduce a bill to punish companies with fines if they don’t create a gender-neutral section for kids toys and clothing. This would create a big opportunity for Smith to sell his non-binary products.
So far Smith’s bill has easily passed through two Assembly committees with a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee set for this Wednesday. Low originally introduced this legislative proposal last year, as AB 2826. This bill would have outlawed retail stores from displaying any children’s clothes and toys according to sex, but the legislation never got a hearing with pandemic-related bills receiving priority last year.
This year’s bill, AB 1084, is a little less demanding. Instead of outlawing all displays of boys and girls toys and clothes, this bill instead requires retail department stores with 500 or more employees to maintain a gender-neutral section for childcare care items, children’s clothing, and toys that will not separate items by sex.
In testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 28, Smith explained he really wanted the state to outlaw boy and girl signage and “let kids shop where they want,” but he sees AB 1084 as a good first step. Smith believes stores need to create “safe” and “affirming” gender-neutral spaces to protect kids from “gender stereotypes that cause serious, long-lasting harm.” He specifically mentioned harmful gendered sales signs he recently saw in a retail store. While marketing messaging in the girl’s sections had signs that said “smile,” “follow your dreams,” and “be kind,” the signs promoting products marketed to boys read, “Legend,” “You are epic,” and “future hero.”
So far the bill passed through the Assembly Business and Professions Committee with 11 voting yes, 4 voting no and 4 not voting, while it passed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee with a vote of 7 yes votes, 3 no votes, and 1 not voting. Only Democrat legislators have voted yes so far. AB 1084 has a good chance of passing through the Assembly Appropriation hearing on Wednesday with the support Chair, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, already saying she approved of the bill, but wished it went further.
“I like where you are going with this bill,” Gonzales said during the Assembly Judiciary Committee, but “why don’t you combine all the girls’ and boys’ clothes with no designation.” With the bill letting retail stores decide what clothes would go into a gender-neutral section, Gonzales was concerned it would be full of clothes that “tended to be boyish for girls.” She wanted to make sure stores would include clothes for boys that wanted to wear “a pink shirt or a dress.”
Gonzalez also said she hopes this bill was just the first step. “Let’s get rid of (gendered) labels while we are at it,” she said. Bill author Low responded that “he would like to go this way,” but he was trying to be less “prescriptive” and let retailers make some of these decisions.
With the explosion of gender transitioning clinics for kids over the past decade, with the state legislature increasingly requiring affirmation of a minor’s gender identity in K-12 public schools, and with more and more kids identifying as a gender other than male or female, it’s no wonder that an entrepreneur and activist like Rob Smith would want to cash in on the new fashion trend. Target is already selling his “The Phluid Project” clothes online, but when you look for products sold at Target brick-and-mortar stores in the Sacramento region, only a few shirts are available. Walmart seems to only sell Phluid Project clothes online in the Sacramento area.
“You have to give Rob Smith credit; he’s found quite an audacious marketing plan in asking Sacramento to force California retailers to make room for his products,” said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. “But activists and state legislators have no right to force retailers to espouse government-approved messages about gender. It’s a violation of free speech and it’s just plain wrong.”
Call to Action
Call your Assemblymember and tell him or her not to force gender-fluid clothes into big-box stores: “No” on AB 1084.