The Wing, a co-working and networking space originally designed for women, has amended its membership policy to be inclusive of the gender nonconforming and trans communities, the organization announced on Friday. Previously, the club’s women-only policy applied to members and guests.
“With a growing number of members who identify as transgender or beyond the gender binary, we want to make sure that we are as inclusive a community as possible,” Zara Rahim, a spokesperson for the Wing, told the Cut in a statement. “To that end, we’ve made internal updates and adopted written membership policies to ensure that The Wing’s staff is trained not to make assumptions about someone’s identity based on how they present, or to ask prospective members or guests to self-identify.”
Since its founding in 2016, the Wing has been both lauded and criticized for its policy of operating as a women-only social club and co-working space. In March, New York City Human Rights Commission launched an investigation to determine whether its membership practice violated the city’s Human Rights Law, which Jezebel reported “forbids businesses that furnish public accommodations, including most private clubs (though not all), from discriminating against customers because of their gender.” Jezebel now reports that in a December email, the commission stated that the investigation was still ongoing.
The organization announced the policy change to members in a Friday email (that did not mention the investigation). Signed by co-founders Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan, the email states that the organization has initiated internal “trainings and policies so that we can continue to build a community that reflects our values and pushes us all to be more inclusive.” The founders also wrote that they are working to incorporate more trans and gender nonbinary perspectives into the Wing’s programming. The email further reads in part:
Our mission of advancing women is at the forefront of The Wing’s culture and guides our membership policy as our community grows. These updates will only fortify our ability to create communities that are affirming and safe for women and marginalized genders in a world that is often hostile to our advancement. We hope to be a blueprint for other gender-specific spaces working to shift or adopt policies to affirm gender identities beyond the binary.
Particularly in the context of ongoing attempts to narrowly define gender as a biological condition determined at birth, ensuring that our community is inclusive of the trans and nonbinary community couldn’t be more important.
Also on Friday, Insider reported that the organization had been hit with a gender discrimination lawsuit in August by James E. Pietrangelo, a 53-year-old man who alleged that his membership application had been rejected from the Wing’s Washington, D.C., branch that June. Insider notes that the plaintiff often represents himself in lawsuits, including litigation against a Vermont deli, a city in Ohio, the United States Army and a Washington, D.C., law firm. (In 2009, a judge stated in a decision against Pietrangelo that his “conduct in this case and at trial was a shocking abuse of the judicial system,” per Insider.)
According to Insider, the Wing officially instituted its policy change in September, while Pietrangelo’s suit was ongoing. In a statement submitted to the court, The Wing’s CEO Audrey Gelman explained: “Prior to August 30, 2018, the Wing did not have a formal, written membership policy and The Wing’s practice was to admit as members only women and nonbinary individuals. On August 30, 2018, the Wing’s Board of Directors approved the adoption of The Wing’s first formal, written membership policy.”
However, a Wing source told the Cut that the lawsuit had nothing to do with this decision whatsoever. The Wing source also stated that the development of the policy began in March, and that it went to effect in the fall through staff trainings.
The Wing now operates three spaces in New York, as well as branches in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. This year, it plans to open additional spaces in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, London, Toronto, and Paris, according to Fast Company. In May, the Wing announced a scholarship program with the aim of creating a more economically diverse community, and in October, it announced it would be offering short-term child care options for its members.
“[W]hile The Wing will always be a space designed for women with a women’s-focused mission, you may see folks at The Wing who express their gender in a variety of ways,” the co-founders’ email to members further read.
This post has been updated.