From Radiance Summer 2000
n May 8, 2000, weight and height anti-discrimination amendments were unanimously approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and became law on May 26, when Mayor Willie Brown signed the legislation.
For the full account of how we worked to get this legislation passed, see the Spring 2000 issue of Radiance.
The legislation amended existing police and administrative codes to include banning discrimination based on height and weight, in housing, public accommodations, and employment.
Similar legislation was already in effect in Michigan, Washington D.C., and Santa Cruz, California. We now have the tools to insist that our needs be met in every area of our lives. Just by having this law in place, people’s consciousnesses will be raised. People are already talking about it. People need to be educated to understand body size discrimination. Those involved with running institutions such as movie theaters, restaurants, and airlines are among those we’ll be “educating.” For example, a facility that doesn’t have chairs without arms must now, by law, provide them.
To make this happen in your locale, you have to get involved. Over my years of working in local politics, my colleagues and I have created coalitions. We’ve worked with other people on their issues and in their campaigns, thus creating alliances by helping other groups with efforts unrelated to weight. Politics is about three things: people power, energy, and money. We need to be involved on all fronts. Go to your local Democratic headquarters, volunteer for the Gore campaign or for your local congressperson’s race. Get to know local officials, city council members, supervisors, and the mayor.
e’re lucky because San Francisco is a very progressive community. I acknowledge that this makes us very different. But efforts like ours can succeed even in more conservative cities, even with Republicans in charge. It is always important that you get to know your city and county legislators and staff and to identify and work on areas of mutual concern–it will pay off in the long run. Whatever your political affiliation, if you live in a Republican-represented area, you are a constituent. The more people you can build coalitions with, the more of a power base you will have. People power can bring about change.
Start out by talking to city staff, perhaps with the city manager or your mayor. Go to the decision makers in your city. (Anybody can approach local politicians.) Ask, If the city were to adopt something like this legislation, where it would start? People in positions of power are actually delighted when citizens bring new and interesting challenges to them.
Call a meeting. Get a group together to approach politicians to talk about weight discrimination. The city attorney’s office is a good place to go. They have to draft the legislation, anyway. Write to me and get copies of the legislation. All San Francisco did was to add “weight and height” to its existing list of prohibited discriminations. Your city probably already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, age, gender, and so on. You would simply propose adding weight and height to that list.
We brought statistics and testimony from many people to our meetings with city officials, and we will be happy to send you a basic packet. In San Francisco, the most moving testimony came from sixteen-year-old Margarita Rossi, who talked about her experiences when she went for medical care. She was no expert, just a strong young woman who was willing to stand up for herself (see Radiance, Spring 2000).
Personally, I am overwhelmed and flying high! I feel that all my work over the years—in politics, in law, in the community—has made a difference. This reaffirms the importance of the work that I have done, and that we all have done. Together. ©
CAROLE CULLUM is a certified family law specialist in practice in San Francisco with her law partner, Cheryl Sena. She was appointed by Mayor Willie Brown to the Board of Appeals, where she acted as president for two years and continues to serve today. She lives in San Francisco with her domestic partner, Kathy, and her two dogs, Sandy and Sally. E-mail Carole at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her office at 415-863-5300.
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