The Wing, New York’s hotly discussed women’s coworking space, has issued a slight adjustment to their admissions policy, one aimed at greater inclusivity towards trans and nonbinary people. In a statement to Jezebel, a Wing spokesperson said the company has 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.”
The Wing has three locations in New York, and three more in Los Angeles, D.C., and San Francisco; the company recently announced it will expand internationally to Toronto and London. But their continued growth in the five boroughs isn’t guaranteed: the Wing has been under investigation by the New York City Commission on Human Rights for nearly a year, an inquiry focused on whether the club discriminates against potential customers on the basis of gender, which would violate the city’s public accommodation laws. In an email to Jezebel in mid-December, a spokesperson for the commission confirmed that the investigation is ongoing (and then failed to respond to several followup emails about when it might conclude and if the city would make any public announcement on their findings).
An email that went out on Friday afternoon to Wing members, signed by Wing co-founders Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan, didn’t mention the investigation. Instead, it described the policy as part of an ongoing internal effort to be more inclusive and aware of the spectrum of gender identities. Among other things, it announced that Wing staff won’t ask members or guests to disclose their gender identity and have changed the gender pronouns in their welcome emails from “she” to “they.”
“[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,” it adds.
The Wing’s statement to Jezebel also made a generalized reference to the fact that the Trump administration is exploring ways to strip legal rights from trans citizens and removing language from government materials on workplace protections for federal employees who are trans.
“Particularly in the context of ongoing attempts to narrowly define gender as a biological condition determined at birth,” the statement reads, “[E]nsuring that our community is inclusive of the trans and non-binary community couldn’t be more important. We’re committed to advancing a feminist ethos that is inclusive of those who align with our mission, including women and people of marginalized genders.”
Here’s the full relevant portion of the email the Wing founders sent to their membership:
As a space designed for women, The Wing is at the forefront of conversations around gender and inclusion. 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. We’re committed to advancing a feminist ethos that is inclusive of those who align with our mission, including women and people of marginalized genders.
Gender identity and gender presentation are two distinct concepts and do not always align. To that end, we’ve made some internal updates and adopted written membership policies to ensure that our 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. We initiated these trainings and policies so that we can continue to build a community that reflects our values and pushes us all to be more inclusive.
What will this mean for you as a member? We will be working to actively incorporate the perspective of trans and non-binary members into our offerings with more events like October’s celebration of International Pronouns Day, or an upcoming talk with feminist, genderqueer writer and Wing member Jacob Tobia. We recently changed the pronouns in the guest emails from “She’s Landed” to “They’ve Landed.” And while 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.
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.
As with everything relating to the Wing, this decision will surely engender little to no discussion and certainly not envelop our Twitter feeds for the next 48 hours.
Update, 8:00 p.m.: Well. In an interesting development, our former colleague J.K. Trotter, now writing for Insider, reports that the Wing adopted this membership change in the midst of being sued by a 53-year-old D.C.-area man for gender discrimination. James E. Pietrangelo, who appears to be a frequent and voluminous pro se lawsuit-filer, sued the Wing on August 20 of this year, months after applying for a membership there (an application which the Wing said in court remains “pending”). In his suit, Pietrangelo accused the company of having “a policy, pattern, and practice of discrimination against men.”
The Wing, however, is denying that the lawsuit was related to their policy change, telling us in a statement, “The decision had absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with this claim and had been in the works six months before it was filed. Any assertion implying otherwise is intentionally misleading.”
As Trotter points out, though, in their response to Pietrangelo’s suit, the Wing states that they only officially changed the membership policy in September— that is, after the suit was filed. In a statement to the court, Gelman, the Wing’s co-founder, said the company changed its admissions policies on August 30 — ten days after Pietrangelo filed his complaint — and implemented them on September 24:
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 non-binary individuals. On August 30, 2018, The Wing’s Board of Directors approved the adoption of The Wing’s first formal, written membership policy. That membership policy provides that all applicants will be evaluated based on their commitment to The Wing’s mission, regardless of their perceived gender identity. On September 24, 2018, The Wing implemented the policy with respect to its application process.
Records show that Pietrangelo has complained he suffers “humiliation, embarrassment, and indignity” from the Wing’s various public statements about men and that the company displays “anti-men and woman-only signage” online and in places like its magazine, No Man’s Land. He’s also argued that the Wing posted statements on Twitter as late as October “demonstrating that The Wing yet still promotes itself as for women only.”
The lawsuit remains open, though no new filings have been submitted since October.