Conservatives in Washington have not relented in their backlash against protections for transgender people. On Wednesday, the “Just Want Privacy” coalition, led by the Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW), filed a ballot initiative overturning the state’s regulations ensuring equal access to restrooms and other facilities.
The text of the proposed act makes several changes to state law:
- Declares “null and void and of no effect” the Human Rights Commission’s rules guaranteeing bathroom access for transgender people.
- Bans the Human Rights Commission from ever adopting rules related to gender identity in sex-segregated facilities.
- Clarifies that the state’s nondiscrimination laws still allow restrooms and locker rooms to be designated “for the exclusive use by biological male persons only or biological female persons only” and that no others (i.e. transgender people) are guaranteed such access.
- Preempts municipalities from passing their own bathroom protections for transgender people.
- Prohibits transgender students from accessing sex-segregated bathrooms in schools, only allowing them to access to “single-stall bathrooms, uni-sex bathrooms, or controlled use of faculty bathrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms.”.
- Allows students to sue schools for $2,500 “for each instance in which they encountered a person of the opposite sex while accessing a public school student restroom, locker room, or shower room designated for use by the aggrieved students’ sex,” as well as monetary damages “from the offending public school for all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered.”
This would be the first anti-transgender law advanced through a voter initiative, and it’s much more expansive than the South Dakota law Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed this week. FPIW has the support of several prominent national conservative groups, such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, which means it could be a particularly well-funded effort.
Gender identity has been protected under Washington nondiscrimination law since 2006, but it was only this past December that the Human Rights Commission issued rules about how it has played out. Lawmakers reacted by trying to introduce legislation countering the rules, but their efforts faltered. Several of these lawmakers have also indicated their support for the initiative effort.
One of the Family Policy Institute of Washington’s allies, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has been pushing for similar anti-transgender bills across the country. Just this week, ADF counsel Samuel Green tried to stoke fears in Washington by recounting a recent story about a non-transgender man who trespassed in a women’s locker room at a public pool last month. In his Seattle Times op-ed Wednesday, he claimed that according to Seattle Parks and Recreation, “the man would not have been asked to leave if he had simply verbally identified as a woman.”
To make his case, Green had to totally ignore the clarifying memo issued last week by the Washington Human Rights Commission, which explained that the law would not protect the man who performed this stunt. In fact, the commission encouraged the pool to ask such a person to leave if it seemed he was there under false pretense — i.e. that he wasn’t actually transgender. Green is intentionally fearmongering by warning that the law forces women and girls to be exposed to male genitalia, when no evidence supports the claim.
Conservatives supporting the “Just Want Privacy” campaign will likely continue to echo these false talking points just like they did when fighting Houston’s similar protections last year. Given how effective these scare tactics were in defeating protections in a liberal city like Houston, Washington’s transgender community is by no means safe. To have the state certify their petition, they must collect at least 246,372 signatures by July 8, 2016.
The Alliance Defending Freedom reached out to ThinkProgress to clarify that Green's op-ed — published on Wednesday, March 2 — was submitted before ADF had seen the Human Rights Commission's memo about the pool incident — published Friday, February 26. The organization says it is aware of the memo and plans to respond to it soon.