With the Trump administration rescinding a federal rule protecting transgender students, it becomes imperative for the state of Washington to stand behind its safeguards.
Trump’s press secretary called it a state’s rights issue, noting that Trump himself said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she liked at Trump Tower. But many state leaders don’t see it that way.
“Bathroom bills” have been introduced in many legislatures, though they are being met with powerful opposition. Business leaders and others do not want their states subjected to the backlash suffered by North Carolina.
That state’s legislature adopted a bill last March stipulating that people must use public bathrooms that correspond to their birth certificate, rather than their gender identity. It also blocked any expansion of LGBT rights in local ordinances and state law.
In response, business and sports organizations canceled events. The NBA moved the All-Star game from Charlotte to Houston. The NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conferences relocated championship games. Gov. Pat McCrory became the state’s first governor to lose a re-election contest in 166 years. North Carolina legislators are now trying to figure out whether to partially or fully repeal its law.
After the Trump administration rescinded the Obama guidelines, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a strong defense of state efforts. “We will continue to stand together to protect some of our most vulnerable students – we know that these young people face high rates of bullying, harassment and even violence.”
In 2010, the state Legislature passed a law prohibiting discrimination in public schools. Two years later, the state superintendent’s office spelled out guidelines to protect transgender students. In 2015, the state Human Rights Commission issued a rule clarifying the 2006 law barring discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Then an uproar began over bathroom access, with unfounded fears of men taking advantage of the rule to enter women’s bathrooms or to prey on children. The possibility of men posing as women has always existed, and it wouldn’t disappear if bathrooms were assigned by birth certificate. It’s not as if anyone would be on hand to check documents.
But an effort to the put the issue on the ballot is underway. The first attempt failed when supporters couldn’t get enough signatures. A political committee met recently in Spokane to push a measure that would overturn the state’s bathroom rule, which allows transgender people to choose public facilities based on gender identity.
A bill attempting to do the same died in the Legislature last year. Supporters then and now miss a crucial point: A man putting on a dress is still a man. Gender identity is more profound; sometimes it involves shedding a disguise. Plus, transgender people are far more apt to be victims, not menaces. Harassment and bullying are all too common.
Government cannot mandate acceptance, but it should support and defend equal treatment with thoughtful rules and guidelines. Washington state has a proud legacy of doing just that.
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