Transgender people and their allies gathered at the University of Washington Tacoma on Saturday to say “No” to Initiative 1552, which would amend state laws and policies regarding transgender students in public schools and allow businesses to determine their own bathroom and locker room policies.
Parents of transgender kids stood with their children on the speaker’s platform, while elected officials and a member of the clergy rallied the crowd to voice their disapproval of the initiative. Rally participants packed the downtown university’s main staircase on Pacific Avenue and spilled into surrounding areas. There were frequent chants of “Decline to Sign.”
Initiative backers from the Just Want Privacy campaign are gathering signatures for the measure. According to its website, the campaign needs 330,000 voter signatures by July 7 to place the measure on the statewide ballot. A similar initiative proposed last year failed to gain enough signatures by the deadline. But backers are hopeful that this year’s longer time frame, and an earlier start, will enable them to bring the initiative to voters.
A 2006 state law protects transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations. A follow-up law, passed in 2010 to prohibit discrimination in the state’s public schools, includes protection for gender expression or identity.
The initiative, if approved, would:
▪ Require schools to maintain separate restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities for use by boys only and for girls only.
▪ Require schools to provide separate accommodations for transgender students, if a separate facility is available.
▪ Allow students who believe their privacy rights are violated to sue the school under certain circumstances.
Speakers and participants at Saturday’s rally pointed to Tacoma’s history of supporting civil rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people.
Ryan Mello, who introduced himself as “a proud, out, gay member of the Tacoma City Council,” noted that Tacoma was one of the first cities where voters approved a transgender anti-discrimination law, in 2002.
He urged rally participants to ensure that I-1552 “never makes it on the ballot.”
Seth Kirby, chairman of the Washington Won’t Discriminate campaign opposing the initiative, told the crowd that the opposition campaign has support from law enforcement, business and faith leaders.
One of the rally speakers was Bishop Richard Jaech, of the Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He said members of his denomination, which includes 90 congregations in southwest Washington, have varying opinions on topics such as transgender rights. But he said his own study of Scripture has led him to believe that God loves every person.
He quoted the biblical book of Genesis, saying that God created every person to be “a person of value and of beauty and of dignity.”
Also addressing the rally were Lydia Valentine of Tacoma and her son Matt, a transgender boy.
“I’m here because I’m trans and I want to stand up for what’s right,” Matt said. “To me, the worst thing about I-1552 is that it says that I and the people I love don’t deserve the privacy, respect and safety that everyone should have.”
Matt’s mom said being an ally of transgender people requires action.
“I want people to realize that moral apathy is endangering our children,” Valentine said.
“The root of it is not about bathrooms, in the same way that it was never about water fountains,” Valentine added, alluding to a previous era that segregated drinking fountains by race. “It’s about discrimination.”
The News Tribune earlier this week asked Joseph Backholm, an I-1552 supporter who heads the Family Policy Institute of Washington, if he or another spokesperson would be available for comment after Saturday’s rally.
He responded in an email: “We are happy to engage in debates and public forums with activist organizations who hold a different view, but we do not provide them with quotes or statements to be used at their discretion. We view the Tacoma News Tribune as an activist organization, so our only participation would be in a format that allows us to speak unedited.”
To learn more about Initiative 1552
Just Want Privacy campaign: https://justwantprivacy.org/
Washington Won’t Discriminate: http://www.washingtonwontdiscriminate.org/
Read the text of the initiative here: https://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_1196.pdf