Members of Spokane Valley City Council don't want to negate the struggles of transgender people. They just don't think transgender people should be able to use the bathrooms they want.
In December, Washington's Human Rights Commission created a rule that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. Transgender advocates and members of the commission have said the rule was a clarification of the state's anti-discrimination law passed in 2006 protecting transgender rights.
Spokane Valley City Council
But that December rule has sparked some opposition in the state legislature. Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale has sponsored Senate Bill 6443, which would eliminate the rule. It passed out of the the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, of which Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, is chairman, with a 4-3 vote Wednesday.
The day before that vote, five out of seven City Council members signed a letter that was sent to the committee in support of the bill. The letter was signed by Mayor Rod Higgins, deputy mayor Arne Woodard and council members Ed Pace, Sam Wood and Bill Gothmann. Council members Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner refused, citing concerns that the letter was an endorsement of a resolution on next week's agenda that also asks the state to repeal the rules.
Here's an excerpt of the letter:
We acknowledge that the question of gender identity is a very real struggle for many citizens of our state and nation. In no way does our support of this bill disparage or negate the struggle that many people face when it comes to gender expression. Rather, we believe the recent rule change has had the opposite effect it was intended to have and as a result, members of that community are now facing increased mistreatment. Those struggling with gender identity have been lumped into a category with criminals who will take advantage of the new rule. There is no way to differentiate between a biological male who is struggling with gender identity and a biological male who intends to commit a crime against a female. This rule gives both of those individuals free access to females in a very private setting.
In a discussion of the letter Tuesday, Councilman Woodard said he knows women who, because of the Human Rights Commission rule, refuse to go into a bathroom if it's not a single stall.
"Different things happen in a women's restroom compared to men's. They just do," he said. "Women go in there with expectations of being able to do their hair and a whole lot of other things, including nursing, and just a whole wide array of things that men don't deal with in our restroom. And so the privacy issue and the security issue is huge to them."
Councilman Wood also expressed his support of the letter.
"I think it's a public safety issue," he said. "And the number one concern of this council, and in my heart, for my community, is public safety. That's the number one thing I think about."
About a dozen community members gave public testimony, with a majority in favor of the letter.
The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs has urged the state to uphold the anti-discrimination law. In a position paper, the non-profit organization says the state has not seen an increase in assaults related to transgender people using bathrooms and locker rooms since the law protecting them went into effect 10 years ago.
Though proponents of these bills may believe that continuing to allow transgender people to use the public accommodations consistent with their gender identity will put women or children at risk for sexual violence, this belief is based in a misunderstanding of the dynamics of sexual assault. The vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the survivor. For children who have experienced sexual violence, 74% knew their perpetrator (ncjrs.gov). Statistical data for adult survivors of sexual assault also shows that the majority of survivors knew their perpetrators (cdc.org). This information in conjunction with Washington State’s ten year history of successfully protecting the rights of transgender individuals with no increase in bathroom or locker room sexual assault provide strong reassurance that allowing transgender people equal rights to bathrooms is the safest decision for our state.
A resolution asking the state to repeal the current rules is up for approval at the Spokane Valley City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 2.