Bathroom and locker room politics have gotten far more time than they deserve in Olympia this short session.
In truth, the energy that lawmakers have spent debating a Human Rights Commission policy prohibiting businesses and public facilities from forcing transgender people to use a bathroom or locker room inconsistent with their gender identity would have been better spent on almost anything.
Education. Transportation. Homelessness.
Even a lengthy discussion on Cam Newton’s post-game press conference etiquette would have been more insightful.
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Luckily, there was a somewhat unexpected happy ending to the most recent bathroom drama in the state Senate Wednesday.
By the slimmest of margins – one lone vote – senators defeated the effort to repeal the transgender bathroom and locker room access policy, which was sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
It was the proper outcome in an unnecessary legislative distraction.
The three Republican senators that made it possible, Andy Hill of Redmond, Steve Litzow of Mercer Island and Joe Fain of Auburn, all of whom voted with minority Democrats on the issue, deserve credit for doing the right thing.
In truth, the fact that the bill met its demise wasn’t the truly shocking part. Rather, that the controlling caucus allowed the legislation to reach a vote on the Senate floor, only to see it rebuffed, was a delightful anomaly in the way our predictable legislative process usually works.
I can't remember the defeat of a bill on the floor in my 16 years in the Legislature, so this is AMAZING!
State Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, via Facebook
“I can't remember the defeat of a bill on the floor in my 16 years in the Legislature, so this is AMAZING!” State Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, pronounced on Facebook.
She may have overstated the rarity by a bit, but point taken. If only the discussion this bill centered on — transgender bathroom and locker room use — was just as rare.
As we’ve seen firsthand here in Tacoma, however, the bathroom or locker room transgender people use — or are allowed to use — is a topic folks really like to talk about.
At the Legislature in Olympia, proponents of repealing the state’s policy cited concerns about safety, comfort and privacy. And, as usual, some made unfortunate arguments, including the notion that sex offenders posing as transgender people might take advantage of the bathroom freedom.
Of course, there’s a reason the Human Rights Commission approved this rule in the first place — because the state’s transgender population deserves protections, and anything short of respecting a person’s gender identity amounts to discrimination. Yes, there are people and families fearful of the implications of inclusion, but it’s just that — fear.
And when it comes to the idea that the transgender policy might embolden sex offenders to prey on innocent locker room goers, as Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, accurately pointed out, Washington already has “a good handful of criminal statutes that are available to make sure that they are not able to harass or ogle or do anything else inappropriate.”
The debate in Olympia this session, in many ways, was reminiscent of the unnecessary controversy at YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties that erupted last year.
In that regrettable brouhaha, YMCA officials first crafted a policy allowing members to use locker rooms and restrooms of the gender with which they identified(correct call), before bowing to pressure from largely reversing course (bad call), before finally pivoting yet again and returning to the original policy (good call).
This week I had a conversation with Seth Kirby, a transgender man and the director of Oasis Youth Center, a Tacoma drop-in facility for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
As you may recall, Kirby was quoted in News Tribune reporter Craig Sailor’s initial Oct. 9 story regarding the YMCA’s bathroom and locker room troubles, and was one of three local people pictured for the piece.
Five months after that story ran, Kirby says he’s still getting asked about what bathroom he uses. While he says it’s important for people to talk about transgender issues, because “that's what contributes to any of us actually learning,” the message for lawmakers in Olympia should be clear after Wednesday’s vote: It’s time to drop the matter, for good.
The silver lining in all this, I suppose, is that eventually both the YMCA and the state Senate got it right.
The bad news is the continued politicization of gender issues forced us to have these conversations at all.
Hopefully our elected officials can find something else to talk about now.
But, given recent history, I’m not holding my breath.