Dueling events over a proposal to end bathroom choice based on gender identity elicited strong emotions and confrontations Thursday on the University of Washington Tacoma campus.
“It’s going to be hard as hell to go through this,” said Angela Connelly, president of the Washington Women’s Network and the organizer of the event to promote Initiative 1515, “because there are so many emotions.”
The initiative would overturn a state regulation that took effect Dec. 26 to allow access to public and private facilities based on gender identity.
Instead, it would allow public and private entities to segregate bathrooms by “gender, as determined biologically or genetically at birth.”
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The measure also would limit state and local lawmaking concerning gender identity, and enable lawsuits against public schools that allow a student’s gender identity to determine restroom use.
Backers have until July 8 to submit 246,372 registered voters’ signatures to make their goal of putting the initiative onto the November ballot.
On Thursday, a crowd of more than 100, split between backers and critics of I-1515, packed a UW Tacoma auditorium for a discussion frequently interrupted by shouted exchanges between the speakers and audience.
After several group walkouts and repeated trips by university security to escort protesters out of the venue, about 60 people remained an hour into the event.
Connelly and other speakers told the crowd, in words frequently coarse and often interrupted, that removing restrictions on bathrooms and locker rooms to accommodate transgender people would place far greater numbers of women and children in jeopardy of sex crimes.
“What about safety for everybody?” responded Maya Dillard Smith, former director of American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
Miriam Ben-Shalom, a former U.S. Army reserve sergeant denied re-enlistment for being a lesbian, told the audience the initiative would protect women from “pretenders ... these men who would self-identify (as transgender) to get into those spaces. How many children have to be hurt?”
She added that she didn’t want to be forced to shower with men, and said “anti-female politics” had driven the policy change the initiative would reverse.
Many of those who walked out ended up at a competing event on campus, a press conference organized by Washington Won’t Discriminate, which opposes I-1515.
Public officials, civic leaders and two transgender women spoke at the event.
Most of the speakers connected hate speech, which they said range from comments on social media to so-called bathroom bills such as I-1515, have made life more dangerous for the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
“I-1515 aims to criminalize transgender people just for being who they are, for going about their day,” said Elayne Wylie, a director at the Gender Justice League, a transgender activist group.
Many of the speakers at the press conference, attributed Sunday’s mass shooting of patrons at an at Orlando gay nightclub to anti-LGBT rhetoric.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and State Rep. Laurie Jinkins said they were against the initiative and the fear they said it’s bringing to the LGBT community.
“We are better than this,” Strickland said. “And in Tacoma we know we’re better than this. We cannot allow hate-filled speech and discourse to dominate our quality of life.”