California to require large retailers to have gender-neutral toy sections from 2024

Sunday, October 10, 2021

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On Saturday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 1084 (AB-1084), which requires retailers with 500 or more employees throughout the state to keep a gender-neutral area for childcare products and toys. The law is set to take effect in 2024.

A JCPenney department store in Carlsbad, California.
Image: Amin Eshaiker.

The bill says that "a retail department store that offers childcare items or toys for sale shall 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." Boy and girl sections are not prohibited, but a common section alongside them is required. While the original version included clothing, during California Senate proceedings that part was removed from the text.

Non-compliance calls for a US$250 civil penalty for a first case, and US$500 for subsequent violations. Courts could order the violator to pay court costs and attorney's fees.

Assembly members Evan Low and Cristina Garcia, both members of the Democratic Party, introduced the bill into the California Assembly, the lower house of the state's legislature. AB-1084 was amended by both houses, then passed the Assembly in a 49-16 vote on September 2 before being sent to the governor's desk for approval.

Speaking about the bill, Low said, "Part of it is to make sure if you're a young girl that you can find a police car, fire truck, a periodic table or a dinosaur. And then similarly, if you're a boy, if you're more artistic and want to play with glitter, why not? Why should you feel the stigma of saying, 'Oh, this should be shamed', and going to a different location?"

On July 25, Garcia noted in a Facebook post, "As a math teacher I saw 1st hand how playtime creates the building blocks for attaining spatial awareness that’s important for studying geometry, unfortunately these toys are often labeled as boy toys. Removing the gender identity from these toys will hopefully lead to more boys & girls entering STEM fields."

The bill was opposed by members of the Republican Party: Republican state Senator Melissa Melendez said, "I don't think parents need the government to step in and tell them how they should shop for their children". In opposition of the bill, the Capitol Resource Institute argued that "it is not the business of the government to instruct retail stores how they should display and market their merchandise."

On April 6, during a public hearing before the Business and Professions Committee of the Assembly, Greg Burt of the California Family Council called AB-1084 "impossible to comply with" as it does not define the intended meaning of "reasonable amount" and "a bill like this opens the door to a never-ending number of complaints from activist groups who don’t like the way stores are marketing their products to one sex or another".

Assembly Bill 2826, introduced to the Assembly by Low in 2020, which targeted a similar goal, died in the Legislature.

Retail corporation Target, with 1915 stores in the United States, dropped traditional toy section labeling in 2015. "In fact it would be more difficult to find a large retailer today that segregates toys by gender", noted the Southwest California Legislative Council, an opponent of the bill.