Say what you will about Gen Z – the generation born between 1996-2010 and who have been raised on the internet and social media – they are passionate.
And from this new generation has sprung the Zoomers Caucus, whose mission is to organize the Gen Z takeover of New York politics, and who recently wrote and are pitching to state lawmakers the Weight Exclusion Non-Discrimination Act (WENDA), an anti-weight discrimination bill that seeks to “change the way that we think about weight as a society and to encourage us to treat people of size with compassion and respect.”
“WENDA seeks to create protections against weight discrimination in employment, housing, education, health, insurance, and children’s summer camps while updating the penal and criminal procedure laws so that hate crimes regarding weight or size are prosecuted accordingly,” explained 23-year-old Lydia Green, the group’s state elected officials coordinator and the bill’s author.
“Additionally, this bill will call on the Department of Health (DOH) to study the effects of weight-based discrimination in the medical system on the health of people of size and to make recommendations for systemic improvement. Essentially, WENDA will make weight a protected class like what GENDA did for gender identity earlier this year,” she said.
New York State currently provides legal protections on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, marital status, and disability. A significant portion of WENDA includes inserting the words “and weight or size” in places where the list of protected classes is already named in state laws.
The GENDA bill, which is not related to the weight bill, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression and includes offenses regarding gender identity or expression under the hate crimes statute. But WENDA seeks to address more than societal bias; it hopes to address weight-discrimination in the clinical setting.
“The idea for WENDA came from my own personal experiences with weight discrimination and from hearing about those of other people of size,” Green shared. “Currently, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in terms of my lifestyle and mental health, but if you just looked at my weight or size, I’d be considered obese and plus-sized. When I was 16 years old, I had cancer. The illness made me lose a lot of weight. This experience taught me that weight does not tell the full story of a person’s health and that many factors contribute to weight that are out of your control.”
Green continued, “While doing research for WENDA, I found dozens of the same story—people of size going to the doctor with a serious medical concern, being brushed off by the doctor, and told to lose weight. The existing narrative is that losing weight is purely a good thing, but because the medical community focuses so heavily on weight loss, many people of size avoid doctors entirely. This makes it much more difficult to catch complex and dangerous medical issues early.”
WENDA is the latest legislation to be marketed to the “Zoomer Allies”, legislators and public figures who are nominated by the group to represent their values. So far, the Zoomers have at least three allies in state government State Sens. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York) and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D-Lower Manhattan). The trio has expressed support for another bill put forward by the Zoomers about eating disorder prevention education.
“Our society’s obsession with thinness and weight loss has also caused an eating disorder crisis, which is bad for everyone’s health,” concluded Green. “In addition to discrimination in health care, people of size face discrimination, harassment, and bullying in almost every aspect of life. From applying to college to renting an apartment, people of size experience poor treatment, and things are even worse for people of size facing multiple types of marginalization.”