Frisco fatties will have the law on their side

Big citizens hail victory in fight to make discrimination wobble into history
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This is a big weekend for fat people in America, in more senses than one. For one thing, today is International No Diet Day, a festival for the hefty that has been running since 1992. (Wobble those thighs and be proud!) And for another, the city of San Francisco is about to enact landmark legislation making discrimination against fat people an offence every bit as heinous as prejudice on grounds of colour or sexual orientation.

If, as expected, the city's board of supervisors approves the legislation tomorrow (it sailed through committee last week), then employers doing business with the city will have to be nice to fat people or risk losing their contracts and being fined. Fat citizens will also have the power to file civil lawsuits against people who make unkind remarks to them in the street.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make history," crowed Marilyn Wann, a fearless San Francisco activist who has been dubbed the Abbie Hoffman of fat power, in honour of the Vietnam War-era counter-culture rebel, for her tireless critiques of thin people and their smug convictions about being the norm.

Ms Wann, author of a book entitled FAT!SO? and a vocal member of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, believes the common perception that fat people are unhealthy "has got to go". She insists her bulk, all 270lbs of it, is her natural weight. "We don't need a diet," her slogan goes. "We need an end to discrimination."

Other places have already passed anti-discrimination laws on behalf of fat people (especially in Michigan, right in the heart of obesity-riddled middle America), but San Francisco is the first major city to do so. That it has is due in no small part to Ms Wann's campaigning zeal. It was she who cried foul over a city billboard last year that featured a space alien with the legend: "When they come, they'll eat the fat ones first."

Ms Wann's friends responded by marching and chanting in the streets, and waving banners that read "Bite my fat alien butt". That, in turn, caught the attention of Tom Ammiano, the rake-thin but politically super-correct president of San Francisco's board of supervisors, who quickly acknowledged the problems fat people have in getting jobs, or rented apartments, or reservations in trendy restaurants.

And where Mr Ammiano has led, with his pro-fat legislation, other San Franciscans have followed. The film director Francis Coppola, a man erring on the wrong side of pudgy himself, has installed flip-up seat arms and outsize booths at his Coppola-Niebaum restaurant in North Beach. Two of the bigger cinema complexes are making similar adjustments to their seating. With obesity on the rise and as many as 30 per cent of Americans suffering from weight problems, the demand for fat-friendly facilities is turning into a clamour, and it is getting harder to suggest, however politely, that a healthy diet and regular exercise might be in order.

The fat campaigners' current target is car manufacturers, whose seat belts are currently designed "only" for people weighing up to 215lbs. "We have the right to be safe in our cars too," the fat lobby cries. Honda and Chrysler had better watch out. Marilyn Wann is coming after them. She may not be lean, but she can be very, very mean.