Conservatives in Washington are currently collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn the state’s transgender protections. It is a measure that rivals North Carolina’s HB2 in the way it targets transgender people for discrimination. And now its proponents are encouraging men to follow women into their bathrooms to get their signatures.
Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW), is leading the signature collection process for what has been labeled “Initiative 1515.” In recordings anonymously delivered to the Gender Justice League of Seattle, Backholm can be heard encouraging male petitioners to camp out near women’s restrooms, ask women for their signatures, then follow them into the restroom if they don’t agree to sign.
At one meeting on April 27, Backholm can be heard giving various tips to petitioners, such as going to places like retirement communities, where the residents are all registered voters who are excited to have visitors. “For gentlemen,” he then suggested, “what I would encourage you to do, if you are so bold and you want to make the point, take your petitions and stand outside the women’s restroom at the mall, and if any of the women don’t want to sign it, just go ahead and follow ’em on in [laughter from crowd]. ‘Maybe this will be a better time to sign our little petition’, and we can make the point that way.”
Backholm hasn’t only made this point in private meetings. On the April 29 episode of the FPIW podcast, he shared the same suggestion and was supported by cohost Zach Freeman:
BACKHOLM: My favorite signature gathering strategy, for all the men out there: go to the mall, go to the store, stand outside the women’s locker room — take it to the gym with you — stand outside the women’s locker room and gather signatures from the women, and if they decline, then follow them into the bathroom —
FREEMAN: — and then they will sign it.
BACKHOLM: — and ask them if now would be a better time. And see what kind of a response you would get.
Hear it at timestamp 10:55:
At a May 10 event, Backholm made the suggestion one more time, claiming that he and another petitioner were going to enter a women’s spa together — naked — and, “We’re gonna tell the ladies, ‘If you don’t think we should be here, you need to sign our petition.’ And we think that would be wildly successful.”
Confronted with the recordings by KIRO 7, Backholm refused to comment. King County Sheriff John Urquhart, on the other hand, had no problem confirming that anybody who follows Backholm’s suggestion will be arrested.
And rightfully so. Backholm’s contention, as he makes constantly evident in his public remarks — including the above podcast — is that Washington state’s gender identity protections allow this kind of bathroom intrusion by anybody. That conclusion is based solely on rejecting that transgender women are women and that transgender men are men.
What’s more, the state’s Human Rights Commission, which wrote the rule guaranteeing trans people have appropriate bathroom access, specifically clarified that the law works the way the sheriff understands it, not the way Backholm understands it. In February, a man entered a women’s locker room at a Seattle pool specifically claiming that the law entitled him to do so, even though he was not transgender.
“His behavior was inexcusable and reprehensible. And it is absolutely not protected under the law,” the Commission said in a news release after the incident. “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.”
The notion that transgender protections allow men to enter women’s restrooms has — to this point — been an invented hypothetical that has never actually happened. Backholm and the I-1515 campaign are now trying to actually create that problem in real life for the sole purpose of scaring people into voting against transgender equality.
The campaign opposing I-1515, Washington Won’t Discriminate, is now calling for Backholm to lose his job for “inciting others to commit crimes and putting voters in danger.”