Inspiring examples of legal protections from classism

At least two cities make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of class, and we’re determined to add one more.

The Traverse City Rice and Roses group’s goal is to convince the Traverse City Human Rights Board that class should be included as a protected category, like race, gender, ability, age, and sexual orientation. Right now, we are on a mission to find other communities which addresses classism and/or socio-economic status in some form per discrimination laws. As we continue to research the country for areas where class is addressed, it becomes increasingly evident that class is a misunderstood and/or a new concept for many people and communities.

While there are states which address socio-economic status and income discrimination in some form, the wording of the policies is slightly confusing to us, and left us convinced that classism needs to be addressed in a deeper, clearer manner, per laws and policies across the country. Many individuals affected by classism are still suffering in silence and shame. We did find hope, though. Some communities are addressing class issues.
Learning more about how their process occurred and unfolded, while exploring the conversations the communities had around their process, is helping us prepare to make our case to the Traverse City human rights board.

As one example, Ithaca, New York has a nondiscrimination clause which protects against socioeconomic status. One nondiscrimination clause states, “Contractors will not discriminate against any employee, applicant for employment, subcontractor, supplier of materials or services or program participant because of actual or perceived age; creed; color; disability; ethnicity; familial status; gender; height; immigration or citizenship status; marital status; national origin; race; religion; sex; sexual orientation; socioeconomic status; or weight.” Similarly, Ithaca protects socioeconomic status in many other areas as well. For example, socioeconomic status is included in clauses that deal with; education, employment, places of public accommodation, resort or amusement, vendor responsibility, publicly assisted housing and much more.

How does adding socioeconomic status help a community? To start, it raises consciousness and generates conversation. When people suffer in silence, they see their personal situations as private, and there is a feeling of shame, not to mention structural injustices which can be lethal. It is painful but healing when class discrimination is taken seriously and people care enough about the issues enough to make real structural changes. As one inspiring example, Ithaca City’s School District’s Strategic Plan for Equity states that one of their goals is to eliminate and close class barriers in their educational system.

Further, the city of Ithaca has committed to conducting research on socio-economic status and barriers within the educational system through data collection to make real change. They have created new data systems with the goal to reduce class inequality in the school system.

Learning more about the steps Ithaca has taken to address class inequality offers hope to all communities that institutional structures can change. It’s through conversation, data collection, and educated community members where we will learn new ways to reduce class discrimination, stigma, and shame. We want to see the structural barriers addressed and deconstructed. We want economic policies that are just.

We were pleased to discover that socio-economic status is addressed in our nation’s capitol, as well. In Washington DC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their source of income in the housing market. Similarly, many other communities across the country have addressed source of income as a protected category when it comes to housing and rental properties.

We have a long ways to go, but the research is promising. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, and many people are suffering. The class realities in the US are harsh, and depressing. Hopefully, in this space, a new consciousness will emerge, one that involves more people open to talking and thinking about class.

We are hopeful that our community will be part of the wave of change, and perhaps even the facilitator of new policies which address social class injustices across the US.

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Written by Heather Carson in collaboration with TC Rice and Roses HR Project members Serena Szimanski and Nicole Braun

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