Update on NYC Suit Against Jewish Orthodox-owned Stores for Alleged Discrimination

As previously discussed on Dressing Constitutionally, the New York City Commission on Human Rights recently filed complaints against seven Jewish Orthodox-owned stores that allegedly violated City law by discriminating against the “gender and creed” of patrons through the stores’ dress code.

This Tuesday, The New York Times reports the City’s action against the stores is settled, requiring the Brooklyn-based stores to pay nothing. Though the Commission’s originally sought fines against the stores, the 800px-Satmar_community_Williamsburg_brooklyn_new_yorkCommission is now “satisfied that the store owners understand their obligations under NYC Human Rights Law.” The Commissioner also assured reporters that if the stores “were to post new signs in their windows, they would say that while modest dress is appreciated, all individuals are welcome to enter the stores free from discrimination.”

The attorney representing the stores pro bono told the Times, “it’s inconceivable that it could be a human rights violation for Hasidic Jews to make the same statement that stores and restaurants all over the city make,” referring to the various gendered dress codes across New York City which result in blatant discrimination similar to that alleged against the Williamsburg stores. 

Asked about the settlement, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not initially comment because he was not aware of the issue. As Yeshiva World News reports though, the Mayor eventually told reporters, “we want to respect every community in everything we do” but adding “we also have laws that we are here to uphold.”

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A School’s Suspension over Dress Code Violation Sends “Mixed Messages” to Transgender Teen

Last week, high school administrators suspended a transgender student, Staceyy Holidayy, for wearing a shirt that violates the girls dress code, despite allegedly forbidding her from also using facilities designated for female students.

As reported, Staceyy purposely violated the dress code by wearing a backless top to bring attention to the administration’s inconsistent treatment of her gender identity. She told reporters, “I don’t know how they can suspend me because I broke rules for girls when I can’t use the girls restroom or locker room.”

The administration disputes Staceyy’s claims, telling reporters it was agreed that Staceyy would use the nurses office for the restroom and changing. They thought it would be “safer” for her to do so rather than use the regular facilities.

6a00d8341c730253ef01a3fc4fe450970b-250wiThe administration also assured reporters that it adheres to California’s legal requirements in place to protect transgender students. However, Staceyy alleges that she was not given a choice in the matter. Thus, the arrangement may violate the law’s requirement that a student “be permitted to … use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

Signed into California law just last August, the School Success and Opportunity Act, or AB1266, requires a school to allow a student choice in gendered assignments like restrooms, classes, and sports teams. Despite the need to protect LGBTQ youth from institutionalized bullying, the law is under threat as anti-LGBTQ groups successfully organize for its repeal.

For transgender students, ascertaining equal protection and relief via constitutional means is not a guarantee and indeed, such avenues can take years and can be immensely expensive. With affirmative legislation like California’s law, however, a student may be afforded protection and more effective means for recourse. Indeed, in Staceyy’s case, the administration is quick to discuss its compliance with AB1266 in its accommodations for Staceyy.

As far as the suspension goes, however, AB1266 has little to say. Some commentators have lauded the administration’s recognition of Staceyy’s gender by enforcing the girls’ dress code against her (though one wonders whether it is generally so strictly enforced). But regardless of gender identity, the fact that any student is suspended for two days over an arbitrary dress code violation leaves little room for applause.  

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Modest Dressing at the Frick Collection

Apropos of discussions about “hijab” as modest dressing including head covering for women, Vermeer’s famous painting “Officer and Laughing Girl,”


now on exhibit at the Frick bears an interesting description: “A gentle radiance illuminates an officer and a modestly dressed young woman engaged in the pleasantries of courtship.”

Is it the headcovering that makes the woman in the 1657 Dutch painting modestly dressed?


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Hijab Hysteria

From my piece over at Women’s Review of Books:

The legal policing women’s headscarves is rooted in a mélange of sexism, xenophobia, religious bias, and racism. Unlike the niqab (veil), hijab as sartorially expressed by the headscarf does not obscure the face. While the niqab can raise concerns about identification and anonymity, which may be rational in some situations, such as a trial in which the identity of a person is a central issue, the headscarf evokes anxieties of a less logical sort.


Read more here.

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Transgender Student Fights to Wear Tux in Year Book Photo — and Wins

Earlier this month, an 18 year-old transgender student fought and won a battle to wear a tuxedo in his yearbook photo, despite his school’s initial reaction that the photograph would not conform with “community standards.”

As reported, the South Texas school refused to allow high school senior Jeydon Loredo to wear his tuxedo in his senior photograph because “they were a conservative school” and as a consequence,  his “photograph would be included only if he wore feminine attire, such as a drape or blouse.” As discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, yearbook photos have frequently been a locus for regulating students’ gender expressions, but the administration’s reasons often do not justify their actions because of First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause protections.66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Joining Jeydon and his family, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote the school district officials a demand letter, describing how the refusal to include the photograph “violates the student’s freedom of expression, which is protected by the First Amendment. It also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which protects the student from discrimination, as well as Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex by any education program receiving federal money. Refusing to publish the photograph would even violate the school district’s own anti-discrimination policies.” The Center then threatened a suit against the District if they did not make a decision to include the photograph of Jeydon in the tuxedo within eight days.

Shortly after receiving the Center’s demand letter, the District came to a resolution that it would allow the photo, saying the decision was “in the best interest of the student and the school and the community.”

But as the Center said in a recent Press Release, the District allowing the photograph is much larger than just the best interest of Jeydon and the community — it sends the message “that transgender students should be recognized as important members of their communities rather than ostracized and subjected to discrimination.”


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Art or Obscenity? Love! Valour! Compassion! and Nudity in Grand Rapids

A production of Terrence McNally’s play Love! Valour! Compassion! at the Actors’ Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has drawn criticism for its onstage nudity, raising questions about public financing of artistic pursuits. Actors’ Theatre, although an independent organization, reportedly received $19,000 in funding from the public Grand Rapids Community College and the group performs at GRCC’s Spectrum Theatre. The play, according to a favorable local review, “follows a group of eight homosexual males” who discuss AIDS, infidelity, and “other ‘real people’ situations.” At least one character is nude for “a good portion of the play.” 

The problem, according to some, is that GRCC is endorsing nudity as entertainment, with taxpayer money. Concerned citizen Joan Ridderbos, who reportedly did not see the play but did hear about it from friends at church, made the complaint to a meeting of the board of trustees. Trustee Richard Ryskamp agreed, having previously accused GRCC funding of being used to “mock Jesus Christ” and “popularize homosexual conduct.” One suspects the upset is about something more than nudity on stage. 

500px-Titian_Venus_Mirror_(furs)The Grand Rapids controversy and its articulation in concern about nude entertainment highlights another controversy discussed in Dressing Constitutionally. In 1975, the Supreme Court decided Southeastern Promotions Ltd. v. Conrad, a case about the musical Hair, which also features onstage nudity. As discussed in the book, it is clear that a production of Love! Valour! Compassion! is protected by the First Amendment. The GRCC’s budget, however, is fair game for the political process, and concerned citizens may attempt to censor the stage through a denial of funding, recalling efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and NEA v. Finley.

Trustee Ryskamp, meanwhile, noting that artistic abilities are not “the issue,” has declined an invitation to see the Actors’ Theatre’s next production: Venus in Fur.

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What’s the Problem with Skyler’s Bag? A School Dress Code and a Boy’s “Purse”

VeraBradleyBagSchool officials have suspended an eighth grader at Anderson County Junior/Senior High School after he refused to remove his Vera Bradley “purse.” Skyler Davis, 13, was reportedly called to the Assistant Principal’s office and told to either remove the bag or face suspension. Davis refused, and the school sent him home. 

As we have seen in other situations, timing and shifting rationales are  suspicious factors in this dress code enforcement. According to Davis’s outraged mother, Leslie Willis, he had been wearing the bag since August without issue. Meanwhile, Anderson County School District Superintendent Don Blome explained the rule: “all students, whether male or female, are prevented from having bags, purses, satchels and backpacks in the core classrooms like English and math.” No gender discrimination here! All bags are banned equally. Davis’s mother, meanwhile, insists that the student handbook contains no mention of bags or purses, noting: “Skyler has been going to school since August with that same Very Bradley bag on, hasn’t taken it off. What is the problem?”

Perhaps the problem had nothing to do with the bag. With his mother’s support, Skyler returned to school, wearing the bag, and was again suspended. This time, school administrators reportedly told him he had never been suspended for wearing the bag, but in fact for “foul language.” Willis says she was told that “the suspension wouldn’t be lifted until Skyler stops wearing the purse.” 

A few constitutional issues are raised here: gender discrimination (girls can wear purses; boys cannot) and freedom of expression (Davis claims to express himself through his bag). The school might counter by showing a rule of equal application to female and male students and, as explained in Dressing Constitutionally, “[attire] bearing words or symbols is much more likely to meet the expressive threshold necessary to invoke First Amendment protections.” Davis, however, might note how enforcement of a dress code often serves as a proxy for enforcement of expressive and gender norms. And a hopeful sign: the support of his mother and many others, including Vera Bradley. Perhaps sensing opportunity, the company has offered Davis words of support — and products.

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Dressing Like a Prostitute Does Not Include Skinny Jeans and a Pea Coat

New York Criminal Court Judge Felicia Mennin has dismissed a criminal complaint charging Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense (NY Penal Code § 240.37[2]) for facial insufficiency in her opinion in People of State of New York v. McGinnis US_Navy_p_coat_wikibased in part on the failure of the officer’s description of the defendant’s attire to be meaningful.

The criminal complaint alleged, that the officer observed “defendant wearing BLACK PEA COAT, SKINNY JEANS AND PLATFORM SHOES, which were revealing in that OUTLINE OF DEFENDANT’S LEGS [sic].”  

Here’s Judge Mennin on the sufficiency of the officer’s statements:

The informant’s emphasis on the defendant’s clothing as a tell-tale sign that she was marketing herself commercially is astonishing. The defendant is alleged to have been wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes. This information was again supplied in the supporting deposition in response to a request to ”fill in the blank.“ Any current issue of a fashion magazine would display plenty of women similarly dressed. However, the choice of such outfit hardly demonstrates the wearer’s proclivity to engage in prostitution. Indeed, the complaint’s characterization of the jeans as ”revealing“ because they ”outlined the defendant’s legs“ seems more to be expected in the dress code of a 1950’s high school than a criminal court pleading.

That there is some type of dress that might be more probative of a willingness to engage in prostitution is also discussed by Judge Mennin, with reference to the cases cited by the State:

The defendant’s clothing in this case stands in stark contrast to the clothing relied upon as circumstantial proof of loitering for purposes of prostitution in the cases cited by the People. For instance, in Byrd, the defendant’s clothing exposed her buttocks. In Jones, the defendant was allegedly dressed in a skirt and a black bra with no other covering on her upper body. In Farra S., the defendant was wearing a shirt, the cut of which revealed the sides of her breasts. In Koss, one defendant was dressed in a black leopard two-piece bathing suit and high heels. In such instances, reliance upon attire as a factor appears more reasoned.

As a footnote to this passage, Judge Mennin addressed the implicit claim that a peacoat might be more provocative during the winter:

Granted, this incident occurred in the middle of winter. However, a ”pea coat“ is still standard issue to members of the U.S. Navy and models of such coats are made and sold routinely to men, women and children, and blue jeans, skin-tight or baggy, are practically an American icon. Accordingly, it is difficult to imagine what, if any, significance at all the defendant’s clothing might have in this case, either individually, or taken collectively with other meaningful circumstances, as any indicia of a link to prostitution. It would appear that the officer was just tempted to ”fill in“ this blank of the supporting deposition because it was there.

Judge Mennin’s opinion, which has generated some media coverage, highlights the perfunctory nature of most criminal complaints as well as the tenuous link between attire and sex work.  While her opinion does not hold that attire can never be circumstantial evidence of loitering for the purpose of prostitution, she certainly concludes that the attire must approach indecent exposure.

Unisex Hats in the United States Marines

The “integration” of women into the United States military (and military academies) has often raised the issue of clothes.  The usual problems involve pants or skirts, pantyhose if skirts, make-up, and shoes.

But there are also hats.

Certain media outlets are headlining articles today “Obama wants Marines to Wear ‘Girly’ Hats.”   For example, the NY Post proclaims,

Thanks to a plan by President Obama to create a “unisex” look for the Corps, officials are on the verge of swapping out the Marines’ iconic caps – known as “covers” — with a new version that some have derided as so “girly” that they would make the French blush.

Here’s a photo from the article in the Marine Corps Times contrasting the old hats with the proposed new hats and seeking input:


According to the NY Post, one set of hats for the “leathernecks” is more “shops of Christopher Street” than “Halls of Montezuma,” and might look “too French.” 

In case you cannot tell which is which, the old (masculine) hats are on the left and the new (girly, French) hats are on the right.