Rule on public facilities protects transgendered

Discomfort regarding what goes on in public restrooms and locker rooms is understandable, as both involve things we’d rather do in the privacy of our homes.

Lawmakers are acting more out of unfounded fears than simple discomfort, however, in seeking to nullify a rule recently adopted by the state Human Rights Commission that puts into practice the law that the Legislature passed in 2006 prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Following a rule-making procedure that included four public hearings last year and opportunities for written comment on the draft rules, the commission’s antidiscrimination rules took effect at the end of December. Among them was a rule that says a transgendered 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.

Some state senators reacted by proposing legislation that would repeal the rule that was dubbed by its main sponsor, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, as the “men in the women’s locker room” rule. Last week, following a hearing, the legislation, Senate Bill 6443, passed out of the Senate Commence and Labor Committee, on a 4-3 party-line vote.

Fears that the rule would open the doors for male sexual predators to pose as females to gain entrance into women’s rooms and locker rooms aren’t reasonable. Nothing in the law provides protections to those who would enter a gender-segregated facility under false pretenses or who act in an illegal or inappropriate manner, the Human Rights Commission says in a Q&A on its website.

Practice of the rule elsewhere bears that out.

School districts throughout the state acted more quickly in adopting the 2006 antidiscrimination law, including Seattle and Spokane school districts. Both were among 17 schools nationwide who responded to an inquiry from Media Matters about transgender protections for students using restrooms and locker rooms. Neither reported incidents with students posing as transgendered to sneak into a locker room. “Any questions that have come up around bathroom use for transgender students have been handled amicably,” said a spokesperson for Spokane schools.

That’s a more adult response than offered last year by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who said he “would have found his feminine side” to sneak into the girls’ locker room.

Instead of protection from peeping Toms and certain presidential candidates, the actual need for protection is among the state’s transgendered population, many of whom already — and out of necessity — have been using facilities that fit their gender identity, unobtrusively and without incident.

A U.S. Department of Justice report found that about half of all transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. And a study by the University of California at Los Angeles’ Williams Institute found that 70 percent of transgender people have experienced verbal harassment and 10 percent have suffered physical assault in situations involving restroom use in facilities opposite from their gender identity.

The state Human Rights Commission followed a public process to write and implement rules that put the 2006 antidiscrimination law into practice. To repeal the rule would be to make the law the Legislature passed moot.

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