by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Times certainly have changed. When taking a look at the six anti-Transgender bills introduced in the current session of the Washington State Legislature one could argue that perhaps we haven't made quite as much progress as we'd like to think. But on the other hand it is important to look in detail at the big picture and sometimes you will find, as I did in Olympia on Monday, signs of a tremendous step forward. And that sign came in the form of Seattle Police LGBTQ Liaison Officer Jim Ritter.
Ritter, whose name you might know from the popular SPD SAFE PLACE Program that he founded mid-2015 that now sees more than 500 businesses participating, testified in Olympia in his SPD patrol uniform on behalf of the LGBTQ community, and the City of Seattle, at the request of Mayor Ed Murray, to urge members of the Washington State Senate to oppose moving SB 6548 out of committee.
If passed, SB 6548 would amend the Washington Law Against Discrimination to take away the ability of Transgender people to use single-sex facilities according to gender identity. It would allow private and public entities to bar people from single-sex facilities based on their anatomy if they are 'preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise [have] genitalia of a different gender for which the facility is segregated.'
Ritter's testimony was important in a number of respects.
The first and most obvious is the public showing of the alignment of the SPD with the Seattle and statewide Transgender community by sending an SPD officer to speak out in support of their rights. That is unprecedented and it's important regardless of how you might personally view the cops; the truth is, the Seattle Police Department is the biggest local government department in the City of Seattle. When looking at it from that perspective, and given the rocky past the LGBTQ community and the police have shared, this was a great sign of movement towards understanding, respect and healing.
The second important point is that Ritter is a 36-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department. His opinion is a qualified one and it counts as expert testimony.
'In 36 years on the force I have never heard of any calls of a Transgender person assaulting anyone in a restroom.... Transgender individuals are much more likely to be victims than the perpetrators,' Officer Ritter told the senators in an attempt to prove to the bigoted lawmakers present on Monday that the fear they are spreading is, in fact, unfounded.
The current argument, and really the decades-old argument actually, of the Republicans, is that if Transgender people are allowed to use whatever facility they feel comfortable with, that will somehow translate to women and children being sexually assaulted or harassed. It is actually a ludicrous argument given the fact that, according to the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization, Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) approximately four-fifths of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim and 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim. In addition, 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker with 34.2% of attackers being family members, 58.7% are acquaintances and only 7% of the perpetrators are strangers to the victim. Lastly, nearly 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home. Now, that's not to say something couldn't happen or will never happen in a locker room or public restroom. But there is one thing, that is for sure - there is absolutely nothing, and in fact more information that is contrary to the belief, that suggests that Transgender people are committing these crimes.
There are already 17 states and 200 cities across the country that have passed and successfully implemented the same kinds of laws as we have in Washington when considering the use of public facilities by Transgender folks. There has not been, in any of those jurisdictions, one single case brought against a member of the Transgender community in which they were accused of harassing or attempting to rape someone in a facility. Again, data would show that Transgender people experience sexual violence at a shockingly high level of sexual abuse and assault. One in two Transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives. Some reports estimate that Transgender survivors may experience rates of sexual assault up to 66 percent, often coupled with physical assaults or abuse. This indicates that the majority of Transgender individuals are living with the aftermath of trauma and the fear of possible repeat victimization.
There are a number of reasons why these offensive anti-Transgender bills are ridiculous and hateful in their very proposed existence; but the terrible reality is that while lawmakers are spreading fear about the Transgender community, through bigotry disguised as genuine concern for the public's safety and well-being, the real issues of rape and sexual assault are not being addressed. Instead, time, money, resources and testimony are being given to this deceitful fight instead of the real fight against rape and sexual assault.
In case you've missed it, the bills that have been introduced, all of them unapologetically anti-Transgender, are:
House Bill 2589
Amends Washington's Law Against Discrimination to take away the ability of Transgender people to use single-sex facilities according to the gender they live as every day and know themselves to be (also known as their gender identity). Allows private and public entities to bar people from single-sex facilities based on their anatomy if they are 'preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise [have] genitalia of a different gender for which the facility is segregated.'
House Bill 2782
Amends Washington's Law Against Discrimination to say that it does not give people the right to use facilities that are inconsistent with their 'anatomy' or 'DNA.'
House Bill 2935
[companion to SB 6443] Repeals a regulation that allows Transgender people to access facilities according to their gender identity. It also forbids the Washington State Human Rights Commission from making any more regulations about access to single-sex facilities.
House Bill 2941
Prevents Transgender students from using restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity by requiring public schools to segregate restrooms by 'biological sex or sex assigned at birth.' It would also restrict the ability of Transgender students to participate in single-sex athletic and recreational activities that are consistent with their gender identity.
Senate Bill 6443
Repeals a regulation that allows Transgender people to access facilities according to their gender identity. It also forbids the Washington State Human Rights Commission from making any more regulations about access to single-sex facilities.
Senate Bill 6548
Similar to HB 2589, amends the Washington Law Against Discrimination to take away the ability of Transgender people to use single-sex facilities according to gender identity. Allows private and public entities to bar people from single-sex facilities based on their anatomy if they are 'preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise [have] genitalia of a different gender for which the facility is segregated.'
Also speaking out against the SB 6548 was Karin White of YWCA Pierce County, who said, 'We have had zero issues since instituting inclusive policies.'
And that was the broken record on Monday.
Over and over again people who are Transgender or parents of Transgender kids, along with the heads of organizations and government departments, testified that there is absolutely no evidence that Transgender people will harass or assault someone or that a cisgender male will impersonate being Trans to gain access to victims.
Sadly, SB 6548 was voted out of committee Wednesday night meaning this bill along with SB 6443 could move forward to a vote of the full Senate. The good news is plenty of time remains for people to contact their state senators to urge them to oppose SB 6548 and SB 6443. According to WA SAFE leadership, 'Elected officials and their legislative aides have told us that your calls are making a difference.'
So contact your state senator and state representative to demand they preserve our state's anti-discrimination law and oppose any bill that seeks to take away vital human rights we depend on, particularly for Transgender Washingtonians. Call your legislator at 1-800-562-6000.
The Washington SAFE Alliance provided Seattle Gay News with these templates as a guide for what to say when you call or email:
Dear [insert name of Rep/Sen]:
As your constituent, I urge you to oppose six bills that would endanger Transgender people in our state (SB 6443, SB 6548, HB 2589, HB 2782, HB 2935 and HB 2941). These bills aim to eliminate core civil rights protections that allow Transgender Washingtonians to use public facilities, including restrooms, that are consistent with the gender they live as every day.
These bills would take away protections that have existed in Washington since 2006. They would prevent Transgender people from safely using restrooms and other facilities in the workplace, at school, and in public accommodations. They would also put Washington law at odds with federal laws that protect Transgender people.
Please defend the rights of all Washingtonians to use facilities consistent with the gender they live as and know themselves to be. Please join me in defending our state's anti-discrimination law by opposing these bills.
Or, use the following template for your call or email:
Dear [insert the name of your Rep/Sen]:
As your constituent, I am asking you to protect Washington state's anti-discrimination law by opposing SB 6443, SB 6548, HB 2589, HB 2782, HB 2935, and HB 2941. These bills would eliminate critical human rights protections for Transgender people that have existed for the past ten years.
Though we might not always realize it, Transgender people are a part of the fabric of our state. Transgender people are part of our families, workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our places of worship. To live and work safely in Washington, Transgender people need to be able to use public accommodations, such as restrooms, just like everyone else, without fear of harassment or discrimination.
If passed, these bills will cause harm and will lead to many unintended consequences. To me, this is an issue of safety and treating people the way we want to be treated. Please protect our state's anti-discrimination law and oppose these bills.
If your business, organization, association, or you are a community leader in your community and are interested in signing on as a Washington SAFE Alliance coalition partner you can do so at http://www.wasafealliance.org/our-support-coalition-partners/
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