SACRAMENTO, CA – California Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to sign a bill earlier this month requiring big box stores to include a gender-neutral aisle for toys caught the attention of politicians and news commentators around the country. The story was even picked up overseas by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) across the pond.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott used the signing of AB 1084 as another opportunity to poke fun at California’s unfriendly business climate. “California mandates gender-neutral toy aisles for large retailers. Not in Texas,” tweeted Abbott. “In Texas, it is businesses — NOT government — that decide how they display their merchandise.”
California Family Council President Jonathan Keller also voiced his displeasure. “We should all have compassion for individuals experiencing gender dysphoria,” he said. “But activists and state legislators have no right to force retailers to espouse government-approved messages about sexuality and gender. It’s a violation of free speech and it’s just plain wrong.”
The new law authored by Assembly Members Evan Low (D-San Jose) and Cristina Garcia (D-Downey) requires retail department stores with 500 or more employees to maintain a gender-neutral section for childcare care items and toys that will not separate items by sex. According to the bill text, all big box stores by January 1, 2024, will have to “maintain a gender-neutral section or area, to be labeled at the discretion of the retailer, in which a reasonable selection of the items and toys for children that it sells shall be displayed, regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys.”
Low said the idea for the bill came from an 8-year-old girl who was frustrated she had to go to the boy’s section to buy the clothes and toys she was interested in. “Why should a store tell me what a girl’s shirt or toy is?’” stated Assemblymember Evan Low in a press release. “This bill will help children express themselves freely and without bias. We need to let kids be kids.” But the bill was also sponsored by gender-fluid clothing entrepreneur Rob Smith, who has a hard time getting big box stores to put his gender-fluid products on the store shelves. If passed in its original form, this bill would have been a boon for Smith’s business.
When Low first introduced this legislative idea, he wanted all big box stores to have gender-neutral sections for both clothes and toys. But he had to remove gender-neutral clothes from the bill after receiving pushback. Some legislators did like the change, and hoped more gender-neutral mandates will be legislated in the future. For instance, when AB 1084 had a hearing before the Assembly Judiciary Committee Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), suggested banning (gendered) clothes labels as well.
“I like where you are going with this bill,” Gonzales said, 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 hoped this bill was just the first step. “Let’s get rid of (gendered) labels while we are at it,” she said. 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.