- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2016

Conservative activists have launched a ballot campaign to overturn Washington’s transgender rule, fueled by alarm over a man who began undressing in front of girls at a Seattle Parks and Recreation women’s locker room.

The campaign, Just Want Privacy, launched Wednesday amid a slew of local news reports about a man wearing board shorts who entered the women’s locker room Feb. 8 and took off his shirt, citing the sweeping gender-identity rule enacted in December by the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

Although several women alerted staff, it was unclear that the man did anything wrong. Under the rule, a transgender person cannot be required to use “gender-segregated” facilities, and the onus is on anyone uncomfortable with sharing facilities with a self-identified transgender person to seek alternative or gender-neutral accommodations.

Was he within his rights under the rule? “I don’t think there’s any question that he was,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, which is spearheading the initiative.

“As long as the person says, ‘I identify as a woman,’ and they’re not doing something criminal like actually assaulting somebody, this rule gives them the legal right to be present,” he said.

In its Dec. 26 rule on the state’s anti-discrimination statute, the commission banned “asking unwelcome personal questions about an individual’s sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, transgender status, or sex assigned at birth.”

“On what basis could law enforcement or a judge say, ‘You were not identifying as a woman?’ Because it’s a self-identifying standard,” Mr. Backholm said. “How do you disprove that somebody is not actually identifying as a woman? The answer is, you can’t.”

Transgender issues are looming large in this year’s state legislative sessions. The South Dakota Legislature has weighed in with a preemptive strike, a bill that bans the use of public-school restrooms, showers and locker rooms by the opposite biological sex, regardless of gender identification.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, has indicated that he supports the idea in general. His staff said Thursday that he would meet with transgender students before making a decision on the bill.

In Washington, the Republican-controlled state Senate defeated Feb. 10 a bill that would have repealed the commission’s rule by a razor-thin 25-24 margin. Three Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting the measure, and two Democrats sided with Republicans.

Legislators in support of the board’s rule framed it as a civil rights measure for the transgendered. They said there is no civil right for others against feeling uncomfortable, while insisting that fears of being assaulted by predators posing as transgenders are unfounded.

“There have been no sex offenders that have been posing as transgender people to get into bathrooms,” Democratic state Sen. Pramila Jayapal said during floor debate, according to The Seattle Times.

Whether the man who entered the locker room in Evans, Washington, actually identifies as transgender or merely posing is unclear. Supporters of the transgender rule have raised the possibility that he was engaged in a stunt aimed at making the policy look bad.

They also argue that the man did not appear to be truly transgender, although nothing in the commission’s rule requires that a person must dress or behave in a certain way or undergo medical procedures, such as gender-reassignment surgery or hormone prescriptions, to receive anti-discrimination protection based on gender identity.

“In this case, clearly the person was not transgender, did not identify as a woman and was trying to make a point — the fact that he repeatedly did this, without the police being called, is the problem,” Brooke Clevenger said in a comment on the Just Want Privacy page on Facebook.

David Takami, a spokesman for Seattle Parks and Recreation, said he was still unsure whether the department would follow up by contacting police.

“At the time we handled it on a staff level: we asked him to leave and he did,” Mr. Takami said in an email. “We are working on refining our policies and procedures related to the new transgender law.”

The man didn’t leave right away: After he entered the women’s locker room at the Evans pool and took off his shirt, revealing a male body, several women contacted staffers, who offered separate accommodations to both him and the offended women.

That offer may have been in violation of the civil rights rule, which states that “the person expressing discomfort should be directed to a separate or gender-neutral facility, if available.”

The man refused, said it was his right to be there under the new state rule and went to the pool to swim. When he returned to the locker room, which now included members of a girls’ swim team, he was again asked to leave, and he did, Mr. Takami said in an interview with KIRO-FM’s Jason Rantz.

Mr. Rantz said the episode illustrates the problem with claims that men have never abused the rule to gain access to women’s locker rooms and restrooms.

“If you were to look into this incident, because police weren’t called, there’s no paper trail that the average person could discover indicating this issue happened,” Mr. Rantz said in a Wednesday post. “The only reason we’re aware of the incident is due to a KIRO Radio listener who spoke up. So it’s problematic for activists to claim these incidents don’t happen if police aren’t always being called.”

In a fact sheet, the commission says that anyone who “fraudulently claims to be transgender for the purpose of entering a gender segregated facility in order to engage in illegal activity may also be subject to criminal prosecution.”

The man in the locker room, however, did nothing but undress.

“Sexual assault is still illegal, but being present in a locker room is legal if you say that you are that gender,” Mr. Backholm said. “And there’s nothing we can do.”

Seventeen states and more than 200 localities have laws barring discrimination based on gender identity, but the vast majority of those say nothing about transgender access to restrooms and other facilities.

A 2014 California law requires public schools to allow students to use facilities based on their gender identity, but the Washington rule goes further by including access to public accommodations as well as public schools.

In November, Houston voters struck down an equal rights ordinance that included transgender bathroom access by a lopsided margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, even though national gay rights groups rallied businesses to their side and outspent the opposition.

Mr. Backholm said his polling shows that Washington voters may be even less inclined to support the transgender rule than those in Houston. But a ballot vote isn’t automatic: His group needs to gather 276,000 valid signatures by July 8.

“The city of Houston is far more liberal than the state of Washington as a whole,” Mr. Backholm said. “If the city of Houston did that by 21 points, I think there’s reason to think the difference statewide in Washington would be much more significant.”

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