(The Center Square) – California’s law requiring stores to include gender-neutral toy aisles goes into effect Jan. 1, with noncompliant stores to be fined $250 for their first violation and $500 for each subsequent violation, in addition to legal fees for the enforcing government attorney.
AB 1084, passed in 2021, does not prohibit maintaining separate boys’ and girls’ sections, but does require that stores have a “gender neutral” section where toys traditionally marketed towards one gender or the other are placed together and provide a “reasonable selection.” The bill also does not specify what constitutes a “reasonable selection” or how the area is to be labeled at the “discretion of the retailer.” The law only applies to stores that are physically located in California, have a total of 500 or more employees across all California retail locations, and sell childcare items or toys.
Stores that meet the above criteria and fail to comply can only be fined if the state attorney general or the local district or city attorney file a lawsuit against them, as there is no private right of action. Though the fines are low, the bill does authorize courts to make guilty parties pay for the government’s legal costs in pursuing the case.
An analysis from the California Senate Judiciary Committee found the bill’s “open-ended language appears to be a deliberate choice” and noted that “well-draft [sic] legislation avoids language that is open to interpretation.”
While the bill does not prohibit having boys’ and girls’ sections, a statement submitted by bill author Assemblymember Evan Low, D–Silicon Valley, suggests the intention of the bill was to encourage retailers to give up gendered toy sections.
“Combining boy’s and girl’s departments at retail stores with 500 or more employees into a “kids” department will most definitely make all kids feel welcomed,” wrote Low.
Bill sponsor The Phluid Project, a business selling gender-neutral clothing and accessories, claims maintaining gendered toy sections “has the potential to cause emotional anxiety and gender dysphoria” among children, while supporting organization Equality California said, “Implying or stating that certain children’s products are only appropriate for certain genders stifles the ability of California’s youth to grow as their authentic selves, reinforces harmful gender stereotypes in the minds of people of all ages, and has measurable mental health implications.”
Meanwhile, opposition from the Pacific Justice Institute claimed, “the author’s intent is to impose a de-gendered ideology and viewpoint on retailers” and that “parents do not need politicians’ help to pick out appropriate toys for their children.”
Similar bills failed in 2019 and 2020 before AB 1084 was passed in 2021.