The most frequently used argument against transgender protections in public accommodations is that it will make it legal for “men” to enter women’s restrooms and other facilities, thus putting women and children at risk. Following a recent stunt by one non-transgender man entering a women’s locker room at a Seattle pool, the Washington State Human Rights Commission has clarified in no uncertain terms that this kind of behavior is not protected under the state’s gender identity law.
“His intent was obviously to make the women and girls in the restroom upset and uncomfortable,” said a news release from the Commission on Friday. “His behavior was inexcusable and reprehensible. And it is absolutely not protected under the law.”
The statement explains that the state’s gender identity law only protects those who actually identify as transgender. “Men cannot go into the women’s locker room, as this man claimed he had the right to do. Only women, including transgender women, can go into the women’s locker room. Persons who enter the wrong gender-segregated facility for nefarious purposes can be asked to leave in no uncertain terms. And they would have no recourse.”
Trans issues have entered the forefront of Washington politics because in December, the Human Rights Commission issued new rules clarifying how transgender people were protected. The rules were based on a 10-year-old law that added “gender identity” to the state’s public accommodation protections. Lawmakers introduced several pieces of legislation to overturn the protections, but because they failed to advance, conservatives are now pushing for a voter initiative.
Led by the Family Policy Institute of Washington, they claim that “people of any sex can enter a locker room of the opposite sex and defend their right to be there based on gender identity, a subjective concept that is impossible to prove.” They also argue that the rule inhibits free speech because it prohibits “any unwelcome questions related to gender identity.”
The Commission’s new statement, however, directly undermines all of these arguments against the protections. It actually outlines exactly how a business can go about protecting its patrons in sex-segregated spaces:
If a business has a reasonable belief that a person is in the wrong place, there is no rule that states that the person cannot be questioned and required to leave. If that person has entered a gender-segregated facility under false pretenses, and is asked to leave, then it is quite unlikely that the person will pursue a civil rights complaint. If they do, the subsequent investigation will uncover that the person is not protected under the law, and the complaint will be closed with no further action.
If a business makes an honest mistake, and requires a protected person to leave a facility, and the wronged person files a civil rights complaint, the Human Rights Commission will look upon this as an opportunity for education, not for punitive action. The Human Rights Commission cannot impose fines, cannot throw anybody in jail, and will not seek an outcome disproportionate to the action; rather it will seek a mutual resolution among the parties.
Though the Washington State Human Rights Commission has issued probably the most specific and succinct explanation of how these conflicts play out, Washington’s law is not unique. This is a common-sense approach that easily translates to any other jurisdiction with “gender identity” protections.