At a hearing in Yakima last Thursday, the Joint Administrative Rule Review Committee (a bipartisan committee of state legislators that oversees state agency rules), took up a series of complaints against the state Human Rights Commission rule that guarantees the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
The complaints, from a citizen petition and a petition from state house Republican representative Dan Kristiansen (R-39, Snohomish), contended that the commission violated the legislative intent of the state’s non-discrimination laws, didn’t follow the proper legal process for making the rule, and violated state law that allows employers to have separate bathrooms based on sex.
Calling Kristiansen’s complaints about process violations “inaccurate,” HRC staffer Laura Lindstrand rebutted each process claim with dates and time stamps and records of public notices. She went on to make the larger point that the rule didn’t violate employers’ rights saying: “This rule does not prohibit an entity from having separate facilities for males and females, it simply prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals.”
Lindstrand also challenged the underlying argument against the rule that it puts women and children in danger, by citing data which showed the reverse—that there’s no evidence women and children are put at risk by allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, while “there is documented evidence of risk that if transgender people are forced to use the facility that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth there is an increased rate of assault or worse in these situations.” (She also noted that the rule doesn’t nullify any of the criminal laws on the books, saying: “If anybody behaves inappropriately or illegally they can be removed or arrested.”)
Calling Kristiansen’s petition inaccurate again, Lindstrand also noted he was wrong to say the HRC had never received complaints from transgender people about discrimination by being prevented from from using the facility of their choice. “This is incorrect,” she said, “the human rights commission has received thirteen such complaints.”
In fact, several transgender people went on to testify that they had been discriminated against and assaulted in facilities. One transgender woman, Amelia Sagan, an engineer, testified that she moved to Washington because of the state’s transgender protections which she called “vital for protecting people from real dangers.” She explained that as a transgender grade school student without access to the right facility she “was forced to use facilities that didn’t match my gender and as a result was bullied, sexually assaulted, and raped.”
As to the complaint that the bathroom rule violated the legislative intent of the state’s civil rights protection laws, state representative Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma), one of the Democrats on the committee, pointed to the strongest evidence there is of legislative intent, votes on the floor. She reminded the committee that the senate rejected a bill that tried to overturn the HRC rule; she also pointed out that several similar bills didn’t even make it out of committee. (It’s worth noting that the senate has a Republican majority.)
Jinkins also had to call for a point of order after speakers in favor of the petition against the bathroom rule segued into advocacy for this fall’s ballot measure against the rule; state resources cannot be used to campaign. Jinkins told me that holding the hearing itself was a bit suspect because “it was a form of free publicity” for the initiative. Indeed, Gender Justice League leader Danni Askini reports that people were tabling for the initiative at the event.
The wayward testimony for the pending initiative against the transgender rights rule was also coupled with inflammatory commentary. One man, who called the HRC rule “crazy” and “asinine” said: “I am really tired of getting this gay, transgender stuff shoved down the majority’s throat. These activists and the libs just never give up. They use incrimentalism. They started out ‘everything but marriage,’ then it’s marriage. Now, it’s the transgender thing. I used to enjoy looking at rainbows, but now it reminds me of something that’s being stuffed down my throat.” He went on to say, it was a “travesty” that three senate Republicans joined with Democrats to uphold the rule and said he was supporting their opponents. “We need to protect our wives.”
Another person whose testimony drew complaints about campaigning for repealing the HRC rule, (“I’m totally in favor of this initiative,” she told the committee) talked about deranged sexual predators, and said, “these people are now going to have access to a live entertainment show with our women and children.”
The committee eventually split 4-4 (all Democrats against the petitions and all Republicans for), which means it didn’t pass.
Immediately after Thursday’s hearing, Askini told me she was shaken by the “hateful” and “nasty” testimony.
Then, on Sunday, after the news of the mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando shocked the country, Askini issued this statement:
"Washington Won't Discriminate expresses our heartfelt condolences to the victims and families affected by the horrific act of violence at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, FL. The shooting comes at a time when, over the last six months, we've seen more than 200 anti-LGBT bills introduced in states nationwide-- more than 50 of them explicitly target transgender people. Among those efforts is I-1515 in our state which aims to criminalize transgender people just for being who they are. To be clear, the violence in Orlando is fostered by the same belief that is driving I-1515 -- that LGBT people don't deserve to be treated with respect or dignity. And we won't stand for it. Washington Won't Discriminate holds the victims and families in Orlando in our hearts and will continue to stand against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Washington State.
Please join us at a vigil tonight at 8pm at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle, or hold your own vigil wherever you are."
Thousands of people showed up at the vigil, which included speeches from mayor Ed Murray and governor Jay Inslee. Capitol Hill Seattle blog has full coverage.
Here are Murray’s full remarks:
“We are gathered on this summer evening during the month we celebrate Pride to share our grief and support each other as we absorb the news of the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history and the largest act of violence against the LGBTQ community in our nation’s history. We gather tonight in solidarity with those who lost their lives, and we offer our support to their families and to the people of the City of Orlando.
“We are also here this evening because the slaughter of our brothers and sisters was meant to spread fear throughout LGBTQ communities across this country. We will, as we have in the past, face this fear. We will not be intimidated. We will stand strong. We will stand together as a community. The mostly young people in that club were doing something very important: they were out, they were living their joyous lives, they were not afraid.
“We cannot be surprised, but still we are shocked and shaken in our pain and anger and disbelief. And as we learn the stories of those who lost their lives and those who tried to help them, this pain will only grow deeper and the anger greater and the disbelief more profound in the days ahead. As difficult as all this is, we cannot give in to despair.
“The greatest way we can honor those whose lives were lost is to recommit ourselves to hope, to that promise that someday being LGBTQ and out at a club is not an act of bravery -- because gone is the threat that it might end in slaughter because of who you are.
“To young people in particular, I urge you, despite this tragedy, not to give in to the sense that nothing can be done. Instead, I ask you to engage like never before. Our community looks to you, more than ever, to build on the gains that we’ve made and to offer a future of hope.
“Along with the Council, with Chief O’Toole, and the men and women of the Seattle Police Department, I promise that this City will do all we can in free society to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring in our community.
“As we leave here, the sun will set and night will fall. Some of us will pray, some will hold their loved ones closest, some will redouble their commitment to the movement, some will do all of these things. All of us will find ways to make sure those who were murdered in the early hours of this morning did not die in vain. We will live in hope and not fear, we will find ways to bridge what divides us.
“Finally when night falls and we think of those who lost their lives, think of the words I will now paraphrase from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:
And when they shall die,
Take them and cut them out in little stars,
And they will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.