Last year, Just Want Privacy attempted to get an initiative on the November ballot aimed at repealing sections of Washington’s anti-discrimination law. The group failed, but its members are confident that they will be more successful this year. Their opposition, however, says it is ready to fight back.
“It’s basically the same (initiative) we filed last year, but we have confidence that we can be successful this year in our attempt,” said Kaeley Triller with the Just Want Privacy campaign, noting that the last attempt was very close.
In July, Just Want Privacy was able to gather 181,278 signatures, which was 118,722 short of its goal. While there is a 246,000-signature minimum for initiatives, the state recommends getting 325,000 signatures to weed out any duplicated or invalid submissions.
The privacy campaign filed its new initiative Monday. Its goal is to repeal portions of state law that allow transgender individuals the right to use bathrooms that match their identity. They are now on a mission to gather signatures. Triller noted that the group had little time to gather signatures during its last attempt. They believe they will be able to get enough signatures this round with much more time.
But Just Want Privacy has opposition. Another organization, Washington Won’t Discriminate, is also preparing for a fight.
“Their initiative would essentially bring back discrimination to Washington state,” said Heather Weiner with Washington Won’t Discriminate. “It repeals parts of a 10-year-old non-discrimination rule that has been on our books for a long time without causing any problems, and protecting transgender people from discrimination. Now they want to repeal parts of it. We are planning to fight it as hard as we did last year and we hope we will win again.”
Just Want Privacy vs. Washington Won’t Discriminate
Just Want Privacy’s argument is similar to their previous one — that the state’s rule allowing transgender men and women to use bathrooms and locker rooms would open the door to abuse, assaults, and other unsafe situations. Their logo, in fact, features bathroom stick figures — the male peeking over a wall at the woman.
“Women are on the losing end of this one because any guy — he can have a full beard, it doesn’t matter how he looks — can go into the women’s locker room showers at the Y and declare his right to be there,” Triller said. “He could say that today he feels like a woman. The moment he says those magic words, women are powerless to defend themselves against that. The new rule actually has a portion of itself that infringes on free speech. If I were a woman in that position I am not allowed to ask any questions related to gender identity. I can’t ask clarifying questions. I can’t ask if he has a right to be there. I just have to get over it.”
Triller said that the bathroom abuses have become an “epidemic” in Washington.
“Anybody anywhere can use whatever bathroom or locker room that they want based on what they say they feel for the day,” she said. “Because we know there are over 51 gender expressions. This has tremendous implications that were not considered that create loopholes for predators to abuse and really negative implications for women, and it strips business owners to determine their own policies.”
Triller argues that a non-elected body — the Washington State’s Human Rights Commission — made the bathroom rules for all Washingtonians, instead of elected representatives.
On the other side of that argument is Washington Won’t Discriminate, which places the Just Want Privacy campaign’s goals in line with actions in other states which garnered heavy criticism. North Carolina, for example, faced a series of businesses refusing to bring their dollars to that state over its transgender bathroom bill. Big name artists from Pearl Jam to Bruce Springsteen canceled concerts and will not longer perform there while the law is in place. Weiner said those states have faced “economic turmoil” for their discriminatory laws.
“I think the backers of initiatives like these … are sincere in their desire to protect themselves from something they fear,” Weiner said. “We saw this 20 years ago when people didn’t know very many out gays and lesbians and there was a lot of fear-mongering about that. It’s the same thing now.”
Weiner said that about a quarter of Washingtonians have met someone who is openly transgender and that lack of awareness contributes to fear around the issue.
“They are people like you and me who just want to go into the bathroom, do their business and get out. There is no danger,” Weiner said.
“Men should use men’s rooms, women should use women’s rooms,” she said. “I think the confusion here is that transgender women are women. A person does not say they are transgender lightly. It is something they know deep down inside. A transgender woman is a woman, and a transgender man is a man.”
“I do not want to have men randomly walking into the women’s room, that is going to make me uncomfortable,” Weiner added. “I understand why people feel that way. But that is not what we are talking about here. What we are talking about is discriminating against people based on who they are.”
Safety vs. safety
The initiative that Just Want Privacy is proposing would repeal the portions of Washington law that allow transgender men to use male facilities, and transgender women to use female facilities. Triller said it would replace those rules with new standards. She argues that non-discrimination rules would stay in place.
It would then place language in Washington law that states businesses could come up with rules on a case-by-case basis. Schools would keep gender-specific facilities, and allow separate and sufficient accommodations for “gender non-conforming students,” Triller said.
“This initiative doesn’t force anybody into the wrong bathroom, that’s a common misconception,” Triller said. “This isn’t a bathroom bill that requires birth certificates. This just restores things to the way it was before.”
“Most of us will admit that we’ve probably shared a bathroom or a locker facility with someone who was transgender or whatnot,” she said. “But businesses were able to make those accommodations on a case-by-case basis if needed … right now what we have is that there isn’t a single place of public accommodation in the State of Washington where a women can go in and have an expectation that there won’t be a male … There will still be options for gender non-conforming people, and there will be options for people like me who would definitely prefer not to have males in my space.”
Washington Won’t Discriminate sees things differently.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Wiener said. “When you start singling out one group for discrimination, you can start adding other people to discriminate against. Washington is very proud of being one of the first states to pass equal rights for marriage. We are proud to be a state that does not discriminate. We believe we should keep those non-discrimination protections whole.”