Seattle’s Absurd, Discriminatory Trans Bathroom Panic
A series of bills in the Washington State legislature could make it permissible for anyone to stop transgender people using the public restroom of their choice.
Like most other people who undergo chemotherapy, Danni Askini lost her hair, leaving her bald and, overall, feeling incredibly uncomfortable. But the chemotherapy was necessary so Danni could have a successful bone-marrow transplant to correct a condition she had.
After her treatment in 2013, Askini—still bald—was approached by a woman in a public restroom in Seattle. “Hey, are you in the right bathroom?” the woman asked.
“This is the women’s room, right?” Askini replied.
“You look like a man to me.”
“I’m recovering from a bone marrow transplant.”
“You shouldn’t be in here.”
“I just need to pee,” Askini said.
Askini identifies as a transgender woman and is the executive director of the Gender Justice League, a non-profit organization based in Seattle that serves the transgender community and its allies.
Her bathroom experience highlights a struggle that many transgender people already encounter in their day-to-day.
Now, a series of bills sitting in the Washington State legislature could make it permissible for anyone to stop Askini—and the tens of thousands of transgender people like her in Washington, or, for that matter, anyone who doesn’t look “feminine” enough to use the women’s room or “masculine” enough for the men’s room—from using the women’s room. These bills ultimately question the civil rights of transgender people.
Since 2006, Washington’s state anti-discrimination law has protected the rights of folks who identify as transgender.
On Dec. 26, 2015, Washington State’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), an agency responsible for protecting individuals from discrimination, clarified the existing law, stating that transgender people are allowed to use bathrooms and locker facilities consistent with their gender identity.
As a rebuttal to the HRC’s ruling, Republican Sen. Douglas Eriksen of Ferndale wrote up Senate Bill 6443 (SB 6443).
Consisting of a mere four lines, SB 6443 would eliminate the current ruling. SB 6443 would also prevent the HRC from revisiting the subject ever again.
On Jan. 27, a Washington State Senate committee voted 4-3 in favor of SB 6443.
But the bill still has a long way to go before it can even become law: it is now headed to the Rules Committee for a second reading, before it is debated in the Senate. If the bill passes through the Senate, then it would have go to through the same process in the House.
SB 6443 states that those who are anatomically male must use the men’s room and those who are anatomically female, the women’s room. The bill would give facilities the opportunity to decide for themselves how to accommodate for transgender people, or not.
“This bill would encourage the idea that people have the right to stop and interrogate transgender people trying to go about their daily life, to just use the bathroom,” says Askini.
Michael Baumgartner, the Republican senator of Spokane and the Commerce and Labor Committee chair, said that anyone who interprets Washington’s new rule as “some kind of judgment or castigation of the transgender community” would be wrong.
More than 300 people signed up to testify for and against the bill last Wednesday. “This is the most [people I’ve seen] signed on any issue during my six years in legislature,” Baumgartner said at the hearing.
One teenage girl who feared for her safety in sex-segregated locker rooms was in support of repealing the current rule, saying, “Transgender people need to be protected, but so do I. What will you do to protect me?”
Many other proponents, like the teenage girl, believe that overturning the so-called “bathroom bill” will protect women and children from sexual predators. Implicit in this claim is the idea that those who are transgender are also sexual predators.
But research suggests otherwise. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 50 percent of transgender people are victims of sexual violence during their life. On top of that, more than 80 percent of sexual assaults in America are perpetrated by a non-stranger, which runs contrary to the “stranger danger” narrative.
In the 36 years Jim Ritter, the LGBTQ Liaison for the Seattle Police Department, has worked for the state police, he has “never heard of, read about, or responded to any calls involving a transgender person sexually assault anyone in the men’s or women’s restroom,” he said in a meeting this past Monday. “Based on my experience, transgender individuals are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators of them.”
Opponents of SB 6443 believe that repealing the December ruling by the HRC would compromise the safety and rights of those who identify as transgender.
Already, 70 percent of transgender people have experienced verbal harassment in gender-segregated bathrooms. Approximately 10 percent have experienced physical assault in similar settings.
When Betsy White of Spokane explained this bill to her 8-year-old transgender daughter Rachel, Rachel responded, “That’s stupid. Are they trying to get me hurt?”
Kathryn Mahan, a transgender woman, who testified against the bill last Wednesday, said, “If you pass this bill, it will be possible for anyone who doesn’t like me to harass me while I use the bathroom. Tell me: How do I prove I have female genitals?”
Although the rights of transgender people have been protected by Washington’s anti-discrimination laws for the last decade, some people think that the HRC’s rules were made without consulting the public.
However, the HRC organized four work-order groups throughout the state last year on this matter and framed the existing rules from the public’s opinion.
“People have been overlooking the fact that the public did make these rules,” says Laura Lindstrand, the Policy Analyst and Rules Coordinator at the Human Rights Commission in Washington.
Opponents of the bathroom bill, however, say that they did not know of the public hearings. “The government has overreached into my private space,” says Autumn Star Bennett. She believes that the ruling by the HRC was “imposed” on her in a “sneaky and dishonest way.”
There are a few other bills circulating in Washington State’s legislature that question the rights of transgender people when it comes to bathroom usage.
Senate Bill 6548—otherwise known as “drop your panties and show me your junk”—would allow any facility to stop transgender people from using gender-segregated bathrooms consistent with the gender with which they identify. Pre-operative or non-operative individuals would have to use facilities correlating with their biological sex.
SB 6548 passed Wednesday night, so now it, along with SB 6443, are headed for review in the Senate.
Another bill, House Bill 2782—“drop your panties, show me your junk, and give me your DNA”—states that those with male anatomy or “male deoxyribonucleic acid” must use facilities that correlate with their genetic identity. The same reads true for females.
These laws that target the rights of transgender people in Washington State come while there are more anti-LGBT bills in state legislatures than ever before.
In 2015, more than 86 anti-LGBT bills have been filed in 26 state legislatures, according to the Human Rights Campaign, headquartered in Washington, D.C. These bills aim to restrict transgender people’s access to public accommodations, school activities, or medical care.
Similar to the situation in Washington State, there is an active debate around what bathrooms transgender people are allowed to use.
In Indiana, as reported by The Daily Beast, Republican Sen. Jim Tomes recently proposed a law that would make it a crime for a person to enter a single-sex public restroom that does not match the person’s biological gender—defined in terms of chromosomes and sex at birth.
Mark L Cole, a Republican delegate in Virginia, also recently filed a bill that would make it unlawful for transgender children to use the bathrooms they identify with.
Last September, however, Texan voters defeated a law that offered broad non-discrimination protections for transgender people, after opponents raised fears pertaining to bathroom access as a central part of their campaign.
“We’re at a tipping point now where the trans community is more visible than ever before. But the opponents want to have it the other way—to move the tipping point back,” says Victoria Rodríguez Roldán, project director of the Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice at the National LGBTQ Task Force in Washington, D.C.
“People are just starting to understand what transgender issues are and the types of discrimination that transgender people face,” says Shankar Narayan, the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. “The initial reaction is usually fear, but to change that reaction, you need to move deeper into the conversation.”