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City Human Rights Commission to examine sex-segregated bus line

The New York World's reporting on Brooklyn's B110 bus results in action from city government

The B110 bus is a private line operating under public franchise

Melissa Franchy/Special to The New York World

Following our story yesterday on the sex-segregated bus in Brooklyn, the New York City Commission on Human Rights said it will look into the issue of alleged discrimination on the B110 line.

Our story revealed that Hasidic passengers on the B110, a city franchise bus that is open to the public but run by a private company, were insisting that women ride in the back of the bus to prevent the physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited under Hasidic tradition.

Two details not noted in our original story: Commission on Human Rights spokeswoman Betsy Herzog had recommended that the woman who was forced by other passengers to move to the back of the bus file a complaint. The Commission also has the power to initiate complaints itself, to conduct tests and investigations to determine if discrimination has occurred, and to litigate to enforce anti-discrimination law.

“We do intend to look into it and find out if discrimination is taking place, because that is illegal in NYC,” Herzog said. “The bottom line is if they are found to discriminate they must stop.”

A driver observed and interviewed by The New York World did not intervene when a woman accompanying this reporter was forced to move to the back of the bus. The New York Post subsequently sent its own reporter, who was told by the driver, as well as passengers, that the front of the bus was reserved for men.

The commission’s decision to examine the reports follows the New York City Department of Transportation’s pledge to reach out to the bus line’s operator, Private Transportation Services, about the incident.

Gothamist obtained DOT’s letter to the company’s president, Jacob Marmurstein, which you can find here:

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22 Comments

  1. “Open to the public, but private owned” has got to end. It’s the worst doublethink oxymoron, and we’re seeing more and more that “Open to the public, but private” actually means “private” (see Brookfield Properties).

  2. I think not allowing people to practice their religion is equally discriminatory. If they will not accommodate the Hasidic Jewish passengers so they may practice their religion and ride the bus (not have to compromise their religion to ride the bus), when there is a way to, it would be just as discriminatory.

    (I’m not Jewish, but I believe in equal rights. Accommodating members of a religion is the same as accommodating people with disabilities. YES, it requires accommodation, and YES it is fair to ask other people to accommodate these people so they have equal rights.)

    Maybe they should make it the left side and right side of the bus, rather than front and back, so the women and men have equal seats. Making women sit in the back of the bus gives them inferior seats, which is more grounds for saying it’s discrimination. They could also switch it bus to bus.

    • No, barring such gender discrimination is not “equally discriminatory” toward religion. Nor is it “the same as accommodating people with disabilities.

      For one thing, we don’t let religion discriminate in public accommodation. Just because a Muslim is on a bus, we don’t make women dress as beekeepers. Nor because one of these cultish idiots is on a bus should we make women sit in back. If the sexually repressed urban Amish would like to segregate by gender, they are quite free to do so, but not at taxpayer expense.

      Let’s also not conflate discrimination against people for a state of affairs they do not control (race, gender, disability) with religion, which, when it comes down to it, is but an opinion and a symptom of bad reasoning faculties. It is not equally discriminatory to refuse public monies to support discrimination, not by a long shot.

      • Since you mentioned women dressed as beekeepers, lets not forget women dressed as and have acted as conservative prostitutes, I am talking about your mother, sister, wife and daughter in which all have had sex with multiple men hopefully on different occasions without a legal marriage contract. That mini skirt that your daughter puts on before her boyfriend with raging hormones picks her up is barley a couple of inches more conservative than that worn by an working prostitute. But you compliment her legs that her boyfriend will enjoy later by saying something like, you look beautiful sweetie while you find it ok to call someone else’s mother, sister …etc a beekeeper because they’re from a different culture. Keep the name calling in your house that has more than enough dirt.

      • Since you mentioned women dressed as beekeepers, lets not forget women dressed as and have acted as conservative prostitutes, I am talking about your mother, sister, wife and daughter in which all have had sex with multiple men hopefully on different occasions without a legal marriage contract. That mini skirt that your daughter puts on before her boyfriend with raging hormones picks her up is barley a couple of inches more conservative than that worn by a working prostitute. But you compliment her legs that her boyfriend will enjoy later by saying something like, you look beautiful sweetie while you find it ok to call someone else’s mother, sister …etc a beekeeper because they’re from a different culture. Keep the name calling in your house that has more than enough filth.

    • We are a secular nation, stick your stupid religious beliefs where they belong, out of public, out of sight, out of school, and out of government. Hasidics are just as dumb as Taliban wanting to wear burkas. Shouldn’t they be living in Israel?

  3. “I think not allowing people to practice their religion is equally discriminatory.”

    So if we had a community following the Aztec religion, it would be dicriminatory to forbid them to cut out the hearts of human sacrifices?

    A religion needs to be treated as just one more idea about the universe. A bad idea that is called
    ‘religious’ should be treated with no more respect than a bad idea that is called ‘political’.

  4. In response to Jim Baerg, it’s an interesting point. I would say, I think religions should be accommodated to reasonable degrees.

    To people who aren’t part of a religion, the religion just represents “one more idea about the universe.” The whole point of allowing people to practice religion freely, though, is based on respecting the fact people BELIEVE these ideas and sometimes these beliefs are the bases of their actions (religious rituals and practices).

    It’s a complicated issue, and I’m not saying there’s a simple answer. I think both issues are important, both need to be respected, and if there is a simple/reasonable solution, it should be used. It seems, in this case, there are more elegant solutions available which would be fair to gender equality and religious freedom, like making it a left-right separation, or switching the front-back arrangement bus to bus, which still separates the genders, but gives them equal seats.

    This isn’t the first time religious beliefs came in conflict with beliefs about gender equality (or other beliefs). Look at the whole burqa issue.

    I wouldn’t support allowing anybody to cut out people’s hearts for human sacrifices in America. Most Americans probably wouldn’t support people doing it anywhere. But it gets fuzzy, because people would also argue, when should you just let people of a different culture do things in their land? (I’m not saying I support human sacrifices anywhere.) How about if it’s something like making it illegal to drink alcohol?

    I’m speaking as a huge supporter of human rights, and especially women’s rights. I disagree with oppressing women anywhere in the world. I think religious and cultural ideas often are used to justify oppressing women, and other people.

    But at the same time, if women AND men in the Hasidic Jewish community support sex segregation, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily oppressive, and it isn’t hurting people, and there is a way to separate the sexes while still giving them EQUAL seats, why wouldn’t it be ok?

    I think there’s another side to the story, which is about respecting people’s religions.

    Should Hasidic Jews just not ride the bus, or violate their own religious beliefs to ride the bus?

  5. Annie, As for your opinion that in practice there is no oppression to consenting Hasidic women, imagine yourself with a toddler in one hand and an infant in the other having to enter the bus at the front to pay the fare and then exit again to use the read door to gain your seat. No oppression?

    Also, what would be the implications of allowing two sets of contradictory rules for a single public transportation system? If women “must” be segregated on the B110, then women must also be segregated on any Madison or Fifth Avenue bus. If a Hasidic man enters the M1 bus on which you are riding, would you out of respect to his religious beliefs give him your seat and move to the back?

  6. This is very strange indeed. I have ridden on public buses in Jerusalem that travel through ultra-Orthodox community and while the custom of women in the back seems to be adhered to, it is not a hard and fast rule. I have seen women sit down with men and then the men just get up. If the ultra-Orthodox in NYC want a discriminatory bus system they should have “sheruts”–i.e. private vans, just like in Israel.

  7. For decades, some cities expected persons of a certain color to ride in the backs of busses. Why did the objects of such discrimination go along with this until 1955? Easy. They were browbeaten into 2nd class status over many years by the beliefs and attitudes of the majority community, which preferred not to sit next to or see black people in their daily commute.
    The law ended this “preference.” Gradually those who formerly seated themselves “by consent” in the rear of the bus began to see themselves as equals. We know how that ended up.
    The law in NYC should likewise end this preference-and-consent model. Mere religious preference ought not trump the public law regarding discrimination, else there is no civil law.

  8. Initally Herzog said CCHR would not look into the matter. Big mistake and I guess the powers that be realized it. It’s a little embarrassing when the ag ncy intended to investigate and prosecute discrimination initially decides to look the other way even when it is right under its nose.

  9. The NY Post wrote Wednesday that no one told its reporter “she had to move to the back” nor did the driver in this NY World incident take a stand one way or another. Additionally, the NYT in its own report writes that “no male passengers sitting at the front of the bus explicitly told a female reporter to move, but several riders said women did not belong there.” All three instances written by reporters show that this policy is not forced on by the company nor is it forced by those riding. Instead, it is a self imposed and self accepted policy by the 99% members riding this route who at times perhaps mention it to others riding.

    For those who wonder why the riders live by this rule? Well, the high success rate of marriages in the Orthodox Jewish/Hasidic community is largely due to men and women intermingling less, and as such a there is reduced enticement for people to wonder outside their marriage vows.

    As for the sign on the bus encouraging men and women to sit separately: It is passengers who decided to do so, and since 99% using this route don’t mind this type of seating, it indeed does not bother the owner or the drivers that the sign is up there.

    • I’ve met so many amazing men in my lifetime. Men that, if they were tempted, were courteous enough not to let it interfere with whatever relationship I might have with them – boss, friend, co-worker. Somehow they all managed their enticement or perhaps were not enticed at all. And me, with my beautiful auburn hair.

      It would be heartbreaking to me if a governing institution deemed that I should never interact with them.

      I’m sure there is a beauty to such a sheltered life, but nothing could make it worth me losing out on those friendships. No religion would be worth closing off half of the human race to me.

  10. well, if Yossi is right, and the bus company is not doing anything to enforce this… if, indeed, it is the local community that is violating the rights of women in a public space… then a much wider investigation needs to be initiated. we’ll have to bring in the feds, and this could become a huge spectacle that ends up in the history books. plus, who knows where such an investigation could lead, what other abuses might be uncovered?

    as for the sign? a wise man would take it down. a wise man would simply sit where he chooses. a wise man would not try to choose for others, but would respect others’ freedom to also choose.

  11. Why was it ok for East Harlem to open an all Black girls public school but for Jews not allowed to seperate the sexes on busses for religious reasons. DOUBLE STANDARD.

    • The Young Women’s Leadership School is most likely discriminatory…but no one appears to be harmed by it. The US Dept of Education even said they were probably discriminatory, and that was back in the nineties.

      So why has no one filed a suit to stop this? I’m guessing their 95% college acceptance rate might have something to do with it. Now, if there is a boy out there that wants to attend, then he should challenge the school in the courts.

      I am personally more outraged by a bus company promoting and practicing in discrimination on its own customers than I am toward a wildly successful program for disadvantaged youth.

  12. Here’s a simple solution:

    “For Orthodox Jewish Men: Glasses That Blur Women”

    http://www.newser.com/story/151752/for-orthodox-jewish-men-glasses-that-blur-women.html

    FINALLY, something that the _men_ can do, rather than force women around them to have to accommodate the men’s ‘religious needs’. What on earth did this take so long?

    I’m sooooo tired of the _women_ who happen to exist in the same space as these religious men having to be the ones to alter their behaviour, rather than the men taking the initiative to do something _themselves_. It’s about time.