LOWER MANHATTAN — Discrimination because of a person’s race, sexual orientation, religion, or any of 16 different characteristics is illegal in New York State. Now, at least in New York City, an additional characteristic may be added to the list: the display of tattoos.

In a bill introduced in the New York City Council on Thursday afternoon, having tattoos would be a characteristic for which discrimination would be banned in employment, housing, and public accommodation.

Some tattoo wearers, like Justin Johnson, said that even though he understands why some employers may not want some tattoos to be a “representation of their business,” he could see why an anti-discrimination bill was necessary for the rights of people who wear ink. 

“That doesn’t determine what they do in life, right?” he said. 

New York City Councilmember Shaun Abreu, who wrote and introduced the proposed legislation, agreed. 

“It’s something that should not be used against you,” he said in an interview. “The impetus of the bill comes from a constituent who feared he was being discriminated against for wearing a tattoo when it came to a job interview.”

Abreu said that it’s a genuine concern, and among the people who agreed with him was John Loughran, a veteran who proudly showed his new Captain America tattoo. 

“I do think that the veteran community would appreciate this legislation,” he told PIX11 News on Thursday. “As members who do typically get tattoos to represent who they are.” 

Another person who spoke with PIX11 News was Lajuanna Green. She was one of a variety of people who said they supported the bill, even though they don’t have tattoos. She also raised one question. 

“Suppose you’re being hired by someone who happens to be Jewish, and you have a Nazi symbol on your arm?” she asked. “I mean, come on, let’s be real. That’s not cool.”

Abreu agreed, which is why the bill would make it illegal to discriminate against tattoo wearers in employment, housing, and public accommodations, such as stores, restaurants or schools.

“However, there are exceptions to that,” Abreu clarified. “If it’s hate speech, if it’s offensive language, the Human Rights Commission would be able to make these determinations.”

Abreu’s bill also would create an exception “in employment and apprentice training programs where covering a tattoo is a necessary occupational qualification.”

He introduced the bill Thursday afternoon with three co-sponsors, Councilmembers Natasha Williams, Kevin Riley, and Justin Brannan.

Brannan said that the proposed legislation, for which there will be public hearings, debate, and possible revisions, is essential, in part because he’s experienced bias against tattoos firsthand. Brannan, whose arms, neck, and other parts of his body display ink, calls himself the most tattooed councilmember in the world. 

“When I started getting involved in politics people were like, ‘You’ll never make it. Nobody’s ever gonna vote for a guy covered in tattoos,” he said.

“There are still some people who see a tattoo as the mark of an outlaw,” he continued. “It hasn’t been that way for a very long time.” 

Brannan said that the bill is intended to lessen a culture of discrimination.

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

He also pointed out that the bill is the first of its kind in the nation and has initial support in the council. Brannan said that he foresees it passing and becoming a template for other cities to adopt similar legislation.