NYC Council bill aims to prevent tattoo discrimination

Arianne Gonzalez, Arts & Culture Editor

The New York City Council introduced a bill on Sept. 29 that would prohibit tattoo-related discrimination in areas such as employment, housing and public accommodation.

The bill would effectively add tattoos to the list of protected items from discrimination, including race, gender and sexual orientation. It is especially aimed at preventing employers from having biases against hiring people with tattoos.

“No one should be denied a job or housing because of how they express themselves,” Council Member Shaun Abreu, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, tweeted.

Abreau told ABC News that tattoos are a form of “self-expression” and it is time to “codify protections for New Yorkers with tattoos.”

The bill was co-sponsored by council members Justin Brannan, Kevin Riley and Natasha Williams. Brannan called himself the most tattooed council member in the world and said he experienced bias because of his tattoos.

“You have enough barriers, enough obstacles as it is to land that job,” Brannan told PIX11 News. “The last thing we need is for you to not get it because of tattoos. That’s silly.”

Tattoo wearers such as Justin Johnson and John Loughran are both in support of the bill and agree with Abreau that tattoos shouldn’t be “used against” them.

However, there are exceptions to the bill. Hate speech tattoos or racist symbols will not be protected. These exceptions will ultimately be determined by the City Human Rights Commission.

In a survey held by the city’s health department, it was found that 31.4% of adult New York residents have tattoos. The bill, which Brannan stated is the first of its kind in the country, is aimed at lessening the culture of discrimination.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study showed that 60% of Americans think that the definition of what is deemed “professional” has changed, according to Bloomberg. Attitudes toward tattoos are less strict, and studies found that tattoos do not make much difference in client-employee relationships.

Studies found that 42% of millennials are most likely to have a tattoo, compared to 32% of Gen Xers and 13% of baby boomers.

An IBISWorld analysis reported that the tattoo industry is now measured to be $1.4 billion and is expected to increase 5.4% this year. The average tattoo artist in New York City makes $95,000 per year.

Tattoos are currently not protected under local or federal law. They are classified in the same way as clothing, thus employers can regulate whether employees can expose them freely.

Nonetheless, some are not immediately embracing this bill and are still mindful of the workplace culture. Workplace expert Stephen Vicusi told ABC7NY that tattoos may leave a mark on first impressions with employers and can “have a subliminal connection or disconnection” with them.

Still, the bill is the first step in removing biases against tattoo wearers from entering the workplace.

“We should be focused on merit-based work, can you do the jobs, if the answer is you can do the job, what does it matter if you have a tattoo,” Abreu told ABC7NY.