- Caleb Walsh illustration
In a few days, we'll know if discrimination will be on the ballot this November in Washington. This week, signatures will be submitted for Initiative 1552, the first-ever statewide ballot measure in the country that would repeal decade-old nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.
After failing last year, a well-funded group with extreme and baseless views of transgender individuals returned with a much more confusing proposal, one that mandates public schools segregate bathrooms and that trans students stay out of bathrooms that correspond with their gender. Like last year's proposal, this year's initiative allows students and their families to sue public schools if trans students are allowed to use the bathrooms where they feel safe. However, this time the fine per incident has been increased to $5,000. The proposed legislation also repeals state protections by allowing businesses to refuse to let trans people use the bathroom.
The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs notes there's been a zero increase in assaults related to transgender people using facilities since the law went into effect. Not a single damn one. (Conservative politicians who've been arrested for misconduct in bathrooms? Well, that's another story. ) The Washington Student Association, law enforcement officials and clergy also oppose this measure because it does not make us safer. Instead, it would do the opposite by infringing on everyone's right to bodily privacy, requiring anyone who doesn't look the part to prove their gender. Yet opponents continue look for a problem that doesn't exist to score political points.
The truth is not stopping the oxymoronically named Just Want Privacy, the campaign behind I-1552, and initiative backers from playing dirty: They are attempting to buy the ballot with an anonymously received $50,000 donation to boost signature gathering, which violates campaign finance regulations. They were recently caught illegally circulating petitions without the actual ballot language included and hurling abuse outside grocery stores with misleading signs like "Stop Co-Ed Bathrooms," as if gender and genitalia were synonymous.
None of which topped the incident last March: Kelly Herron was in a restroom in a Seattle public park when a man attempted to rape her. Herron later posted on Instagram that she was "clawing his face, punching back, and desperately trying to escape his grip," screaming "Not today, motherf---er!" when she got away. Just Want Privacy seized the story to use the photo Herron had posted of her injuries in an email fundraiser.
When Herron discovered her experience had been co-opted, she responded to the group with the same language she used to try to scare her assailant: "To the people behind I-1552... I refuse to allow anyone to use me and my horrific sexual assault to cause harm and discrimination to others."
No ballot initiative would have prevented the attack, because assault is already illegal. Her attacker also didn't decide to use antidiscrimination laws to pretend to be a trans woman so he could sneak into the women's restroom. Using someone else's tragedy to push for discrimination is a common strategy of groups with hateful agendas, and Just Want Privacy succeeded in creating and exploiting the same violence they claim to be trying to prevent.
The demonization has to stop. Extremists are reinforcing a narrow definition of gender and sexuality, instead of focusing on the real problem: Working to stop men from committing rape, and addressing rape culture.
Safety is a basic human need we all share. In this case, safety means acceptance and understanding, not punishing innocent people over imaginary evils. Naturally, real acceptance and understanding makes things better for all.
The fear driving I-1552 doesn't exist, but the dangers of these misguided policies passing are real. ♦
Paul Dillon manages public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.