State’s restroom rule respects the privacy of all

Usually a wave of the hand and a polite “no, thank you,” is enough to let those gathering signatures for an initiative petition know that you’re not interested in signing.

Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington and spokesman for Initiative 1515, has told his signature gathers to be more persuasive. Initiative 1515 would repeal the state law adopted through a rule-making process by the state Human Rights Commission last year that allows transgender individuals to use the bathroom or changing facility of their sexual identity rather than the gender of their birth.

In audio recordings, Backholm advises male signature gatherers:

“For the gentlemen, what I would encourage you to do, if you are so bold and to make the point, take your petition and stand outside the women’s restroom at the mall. If any of the women don’t want to sign it, just go ahead and follow them in. Maybe this will be a better time to sign our little petition, and we can make the point that way.”

Since the recording went public, Backholm has said the comment was “kind of a dumb joke,” but done to make a point.

We don’t see the humor in “gentlemen” harassing women entering a restroom. And we don’t see Backholm’s point.

But then we don’t see the point of I-1515, which is attempting to secure at least 246,000 signatures of registered voters by July 8 to make the ballot in 2017.

The rule that I-1515 would overturn puts into practice the law that the Legislature passed in 2006 prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Following a process that included four public hearings and opportunities for written comment on the draft rules, the Human Right’s Commission’s antidiscrimination rules took effect at the end of December.

The rule makes official a practice that has been commonplace in schools and in the public to accommodate the privacy of transgender people, as the privacy of all is respected. Several school districts in Snohomish County had policies in place to accommodate transgender students, even before the federal Department of Education issued a recent directive asking all school districts to provide for transgender students. Some districts, in addition to gender-specific restrooms and locker facilities, are offering gender-neutral facilities for those who prefer that option.

I-1515 isn’t the only challenge to the new rule. As recently reported by The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield, the state’s little-used Joint Administrative Rules Review Committee is hearing a request to suspend the law from 29 members of the state House Republican Caucus, including several Snohomish County lawmakers. The request followed unsuccessful attempts during the last year’s legislative session to repeal the law. But with the committee split between four Democrats and four Republicans, no action is expected.

There’s no need to repeal the rule. The voyeurism and harassment that opponents of the rule fear already are illegal and can appropriately be addressed by law enforcement, just as they might question a male signature gatherer chasing a woman into a restroom.

Scrapping the current rule is more than unnecessary; it could result in an increase of incidents of discrimination and harassment of transgender people and leave the state open to legal and economic problems, including the boycotts that North Carolina and other states now are experiencing after their legislatures passed laws that mandated transgender people use only the restrooms that conform to the gender they were born with.

For years, most transgender people have been using the restrooms of their gender identity, typically without incident. There’s no reason for that not to continue.

All it takes is some shared respect for all and the etiquette our parents taught us. You know: MYOB.

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