One of the most exhilarating sections of Washington state law is the part that proclaims freedom from discrimination and sets forth a declaration of civil rights. Line by line, it captures the heartbeat of what we have in common while tracing out the veins and capillaries of who we are as individuals.
It asserts that Washingtonians shall not be treated differently because of race, creed, color or national origin. It confers basic rights and dignity to the disabled, veterans, active military members, people who use service animals and nursing mothers. It makes clear that discrimination won’t be tolerated based on sex or sexual orientation.
It pulses with the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, the heroic preacher of equality whom our country celebrated this week.
Now, with the subtlety of a heart attack, several Republican state representatives want to muck up this inclusive document by adding a few hundred words of exclusion at the end of it.
House Bill 1011 would invite public and private organizations to brush off the rights of transgender individuals by banning them from gender-segregated restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities.
The good news is that leaders in the Democrat-controlled House won’t let this legislation see the light of day. The better news is that no companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, where Republicans control the majority caucus.
GOP senators took up arms in the bathroom wars a year ago, but so far in 2017, they’ve shown admirable restraint. They have not tried again to repeal a state policy, approved by the Human Rights Commission in 2015, that allows transgender people to use restrooms matching their gender identity. Last February, a repeal effort lost by a single vote on the Senate floor.
This year, they can’t afford such distractions. Every mind in Olympia should be laser-focused on negotiating a budget, determined to fully fund public schools and mental health. The last thing this Legislature needs is to squander time, political capital and goodwill on a wedge social issue.
Perhaps Senate Republicans, after seeing what happened in North Carolina last year, deduced that discriminating on the basis of gender identity is bad for business. In the Tar Heel state, a law restricting LGBTQ legal protections and transgender bathroom access spawned a national backlash; it’s projected to cost the state billions in federal funding, private investment and tourism dollars.
Self-defeating laws such as North Carolina’s, and another currently proposed in Texas, are not only unconstitutional, they are unenforceable —unless genitalia gendarmes will be hired to conduct spot checks at the bathroom door.
But there’s one overriding reason why Washingtonians should reject HB1011 and other ideas of its ilk: to stand up for the liberties espoused in the state’s freedom from discrimination law, and by heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote from a jail cell in 1963.
In today’s creeping national culture of fear and intimidation, even noble-sounding efforts to protect women and children, such as the resurrected Just Want Privacy initiative, are easily co-opted by bigots. The narrative inevitably leads to transgender people being stigmatized as dangerous deviants or peeping toms, rather than human beings who occasionally need to use a public toilet.
We hope 2017 is the year the bathroom wars end in Washington. The Legislature can do its part by calling a ceasefire.