Editorial: ‘Bathroom’ initiative plays on unwarranted fears

By The Herald Editorial Board

A little more than two weeks remain before supporters of Initiative 1552 must submit the signatures of at least 260,000 registered Washington state voters to qualify their measure for the general election ballot in November.

While the initiative process is a venerable tradition in Washington state and gives citizens the ability to make direct appeals to the voters, not every proposal deserves the support of voters and a spot on the ballot.

Such is the case with I-1552, which would repeal protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law, passed in 2006 and with rules adopted in 2015 that extended protections to the state’s LGBT citizens.

Washington is one of 19 states, which along with 200 U.S. cities, have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity. The state’s Human Rights Commission in 2015 implemented rules regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, providing practical guidance on the 2006 anti-discrimination law. Among them was a rule that says a transgender person can’t be required to use a “gender segregated” restroom or locker room that is inconsistent with his or her gender identity, meaning a transgender person who identifies as a female must be allowed to use a women’s restroom.

The law, simply, allows transgender men and women to use restrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities that fit the gender with which they identify, respecting their dignity and recognizing everyone’s desire to use such facilities without harassment.

In its desperation to repeal those rules, supporters of the initiative have misstated the intent and language of the law and played on baseless fears.

On its website, JustWantPrivacy.org, supporters make wild claims that the state’s anti-discrimination law now allows any man to enter a women’s locker room and declare his right to be there, makes indecent exposure legal in those facilities and further absurdly warns that the law forces “little girls to share their gym showers with grown men.”

That isn’t happening. Indecent exposure, voyeurism and related crimes remain strictly prohibited under state law and are addressed by law enforcement. In fact, in the states and cities where the rights of transgendered people have been protected, no increase in public safety incidents has been reported.

If I-1552 became law, might you expect instead to see self-appointed restroom monitors asking to check your ID — or something more invasive of privacy — to prove your birth gender? Yep, that’s a ridiculous notion, too, but it shows how unenforceable and silly I-1552 would be.

What it would do is leave transgendered people open to greater harassment than they already face. Who would feel comfortable if a transgendered man, one who identifies and dresses as a man, is compelled to use a women’s restroom or locker room? The same goes for a transgender woman who is told she can only use a men’s locker room.

The need to extend such protection to transgendered individuals is clear: A 2015 nationwide study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 54 percent of transgender people reported being verbally harassed when they attended school, 24 percent reported physical attacks and 13 percent reported sexual assaults because they were transgender.

The initiative singles out schools for financial harm, opening them up to lawsuits — with fines of up to $5,000 for every incident of noncompliance as well as punitive damages — if a transgendered student is allowed to use a facility that doesn’t align with their gender at birth.

And it would open up Washington state to the economic boycotts that North Carolina and other states experienced when so-called “bathroom bills” were adopted. North Carolina only recently repealed the most objectionable parts of its law, after it lost NCAA tournaments and substantial convention business.

Supporters of Initiative 1552 have until July 7 to turn in at least 260,000 signatures, although the Secretary of State’s office recommends at least 325,000 names to allow for invalid signatures. The campaign, on its website, claims it has collected 119,000 as of June 14, though it recently accepted a $50,000 donation that could help it fund its collection of more signatures.

I-1552 represents a gross misrepresentation of who transgendered people are, assigns dangerous and insulting stereotypes to them, and by barring them from restrooms and similar facilities, would deny them public access to a simple human comfort.

The voters of Washington state rejected a similar, although less punitive, measure last year, when that petition failed to collect enough signatures. Voters should do the same with I-1552 and decline to sign.

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