OLYMPIA, Wash.—Pressure is mounting at the state capitol for lawmakers to undo a divisive new rule that allows transgender individuals to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and other gender-segregated facilities of the sex the individuals identify as being.
“People don’t understand the magnitude of the rules that they’re making,” Jill Wade, a mother of two from Spanaway, Wash., told The Daily Signal. “Nobody had any idea that any public meetings were going on because they weren’t on their site.”
Wade is part of a group of conservative Christians working to inform the public about the new rules and pressure lawmakers to scale them back. If more people knew about the rules, Wade believes, more people would be fighting against them.
The rules, which were quietly adopted by the state’s Human Rights Commission on Dec. 26, apply to schools and businesses—both public and private—with eight or more employees.
The Human Rights Commission, which is tasked with handling discrimination complaints in the state, branded the rules as an update or clarification to Washington’s 2006 anti-discrimination law. While intended to protect transgender individuals from discrimination, some feel that the updates came at the expense of others’ personal privacy and comfort.
Already, two Republican state legislators, Sen. Doug Ericksen and Rep. Graham Hunt, are working to reverse the regulations through legislative action.
On Wednesday at the state capitol, they explained how they plan to do so.
Correcting a ‘Grave Oversight’
Ericksen, a Republican senator from Bellingham, Wash., told The Daily Signal that he plans to introduce a “simple” one-paragraph proposal that would immediately repeal the rules drawn up by the Human Rights Commission. His proposal would also ban the agency from “initiating” any further rules regarding transgender individuals’ use of sex-segregated facilities.
With his bill, Ericksen aims to leave sensitive decisions about the use of sex-segregated facilities by transgender individuals to local businesses, schools, and communities.
“Isn’t that a unique thought, that individual businesses, individual school districts can make the choices that are best for them?” Ericksen sarcastically asked.
His policy is “not an issue of being scared,” Ericksen said, but rather, a way of adhering to “societal expectations.”
“I believe that when I drop my kids off at school, or when I take them to a private gym, I have a right to expect that the men will use the men’s locker room and the women will use the women’s locker room,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about my young daughters having to come face to face with things that they should not have to be exposed to at their age.”
Ericksen has hopes to pass his one-paragraph bill through the Republican-controlled Senate before Washington’s legislative session ends on March 10—with at least some bipartisan support.
“There is broad based support to repeal this rule and it transcends political ideology, makeup, identification,” Ericksen said. “People can read it in 30 seconds, and we can correct a grave overstep by a government agency.”
‘Preventing This From Happening Again’
Rep. Graham Hunt, a conservative from Orting, Wash., wants to go even farther in correcting what he also considers a “grave overstep by a government agency.”
“Repealing is great because it undoes what happened,” Hunt told The Daily Signal minutes before dropping his own bill addressing the updated rules. “But I don’t think it preserves or protects to prevent this from happening again in another way.”
On Wednesday at the state capitol, Hunt introduced a bill that bans transgender individuals from using bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, or saunas if such individuals are “preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise [have] genitalia of a different gender from that for which the facility is segregated.”
“I’ve tried to make this about the genitalia,” Hunt said bluntly. “If you don’t have the parts…if you don’t have the plumbing, then you don’t go in.”
The legislation includes exceptions for parents and caretakers of minors or persons with disabilities, and enforcement, he said, “would be complaint driven.”
In a Democrat-controlled House, Hunt admits he faces an uphill battle.
On Wednesday, Hunt introduced the legislation with the support of 34 members “and counting”—but none of them was a Democrat.
Specifically, he said, one is standing in the way.
In order for his bill to reach the House floor, Hunt must first pass the measure through the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Laurie Jinkins.
According to Hunt, Jinkins, an openly gay Democrat from Tacoma, Wash., is blocking the measure from coming to a committee vote, refusing to even hold a public hearing on the bill.
“At this point, we just frankly don’t agree,” Hunt said. “She believes my bill is offensive to the transgender community, and I said that I think the [Washington Administrative Code] is offensive to the non-transgender community.”
Jinkins declined to speak with The Daily Signal about this story.
According to Hunt, Jinkins fears that allowing a hearing on the issue would be overtly “political.”
Hunt took issue with that notion, arguing there’s no better place to take up the issue than in “the people’s house.”
“How can you say the legislature—the people’s house—is not the place to have an open discussion? How can you say that?” Hunt asked. “What else are we here to do—make decisions for the people without their input? That’s not a representative form of government.”
Absent an influx of calls into Jinkins’ office from people concerned about the regulations, Hunt said his bill won’t stand a shot in this legislative session. In the long term, however, he has more hope.
At the end of a meeting on Wednesday, Hunt said he and Jinkins were able to reach an agreement to find “middle ground” in the coming months.
“What she has agreed to is having some sessions during the interim to try to find middle ground,” Hunt said. “I’m happy that she said some middle ground could be found, it’s just not going to be during the 60-day session.”
If that falls through, then Hunt said it’s up to Washington “to make a change with our vote.”
“If there’s not a hearing and they’re not allowed the opportunity to be a part of the conservation, then we make the change with our vote. And if you don’t vote, you’re not going to have a change. That’s what representatives are ultimately accountable to…the vote.”