‘Hateful speech’ or ‘conversation’? Rhetoric ramps up

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, June 15, 2016 8:20pm
  • Local News

OLYMPIA — Opponents of an initiative to repeal state rules allowing transgender people access to bathrooms of their choice are linking the philosophical motivations for the measure and the deadly attack at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando.

“We won’t mince words: The anti-LGBT beliefs that are driving backers of Initiative 1515 and hundreds of similar bills across the country — many of them targeting transgender people — are the same beliefs that drove the violence in Orlando,” the chairman of the Washington Won’t Discriminate political committee wrote in an email to supporters Tuesday.

“Bigotry manifests itself in many different ways, but the result is the same: our dignity and our lives, are threatened,” continued Seth Kirby in the missive announcing the opposition campaign’s kick-off event Friday.

Heather Weiner, spokesperson for Washington Won’t Discriminate, said in an interview Tuesday that the “hateful speech” directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by initiative backers fosters an environment in which attacks are a potential consequence.

“It very much leads to violence. It very much leads to harassment and discrimination by criminalizing transgender people just for being who they are,” she said.

But the Lynnwood man leading the initiative effort dismissed the comments as rhetoric and said the attack in Florida was not a hate crime.

“What happened in Orlando was horrible, awful, tragic. That was just about ISIS,” said Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, which is a statewide voice for religious and social conservatives.

The ballot measure, he said, “is a policy conversation that is taking place. People are using strong language in the context of a policy conversation.”

The exchange reveals the intensifying emotions in the debate on sexual identity taking place in Washington.

Initiative 1515 would erase a state rule ensuring transgender people can use bathrooms based on their sexual identity. The protections stem from interpretations of a 2006 law barring discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.

It’s not certain Initiative 1515 will make it on the November ballot.

The campaign committee, Just Want Privacy, is seeking volunteers to gather signatures and money to hire professionals to collect them. To qualify, the campaign must turn in at least 246,000 signatures of registered voters by July 8.

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Backholm said. “Nobody is taking anything for granted.”

Meanwhile, Backholm is opening another front in the group’s battle.

The target is the Health and Physical Education Standards produced by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. This 126-page document provides advice on concepts and skills students should be acquiring as they move grade-by-grade from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Backholm’s beef concerns the guidance on sexual identity on page 29.

It calls for kindergartners to “understand there are many ways to express gender” and in 1st grade explain those ways. By fifth grade, students should be able to identify “trusted adults” to ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.

“If the conversation is about teaching students to respect others and be kind to all it is always OK,” Backholm said. “Here you are trying to teach kids you can choose your gender. That is not OK.”

Nathan Olson, communications manager for the superintendent’s office, said it’ll be up to school boards which of the instructional suggestions, if any, to absorb into the curriculum.

“If a district decides that in accordance with community standards they don’t want to teach self-identity, they don’t have to,” Olson said.

Backholm said he’s begun encouraging parents to contact members of their local school board to make their views known.

“The concern is this is the public school system moving away from education to indoctrination on an issue that is very much the responsibility of parents,” Backholm said.

“I’ve had three kindergartners and will have one next year and they are not struggling with gender identification,” he said.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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