Politics & Government

Bathroom initiative won’t be on November ballot

FILE - In this May 17, 2016, file photo, a new sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale high school in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FILE - In this May 17, 2016, file photo, a new sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale high school in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) AP

Another effort to restrict which bathrooms transgender people can use has failed in Washington.

Just Want Privacy, a group campaigning for the bathroom and locker room-related Initiative 1552, announced Friday it didn’t have enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The defeat is the latest loss for advocates of rolling back the state’s rules that allow people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with the gender they identify with.

In February 2016, the GOP-controlled state Senate killed legislation to repeal the rules aimed at protecting bathroom access for transgender people. Later that year, a similar initiative that Just Want Privacy pushed also failed to get enough signatures for the ballot.

Kaeley Triller Haver, communications director for Just Want Privacy, said in an emailed statement that the group got more signatures than last year but ultimately fell short.

She vowed that Just Want Privacy will continue to try and repeal the state’s rules.

“We will not stop working to reverse this dangerous rule and restore the safety and privacy of women and girls in Washington,” Haver said. “Whether that means trying again next year or working with the Legislature in the upcoming session will be determined in the near future.”

Opponents of I-1552 hailed Friday’s announcement as a victory. Seth Kirby, who chairs the opposition campaign Washington Won’t Discriminate, said he was “just very proud of Washington state.”

“It really starts to make clear that the tide is turning and that people understand that transgender folks like myself and others who are transgender deserve the same basic protection as everybody else to use public facilities with privacy, safety and dignity,” Kirby said.

Just Want Privacy’s legislation would have required people to use facilities in schools and other public places that match their biological sex at birth.

The measure said students who “consistently assert” their gender identity is different from their “birth sex” should get “alternative accommodation if one is available,” including restrooms meant for one person.

The ballot measure was sparked by a 2015 ruling from the state Human Rights Commission saying that allowing people to use the bathroom or locker room matching their gender identity is protected under Washington’s 2006 nondiscrimination law.

The state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has required K-12 schools to let students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity since 2012.

The Just Want Privacy campaign maintained its measure was not aimed at hurting transgender people. They said the bathroom rules allow men posing as transgender to legally enter bathrooms to assault or harass women or children.

The HRC ruling “is innately dangerous and ripe for abuse,” Haver said, saying it allows “grown men access to women’s showers and intimate facilities.”

Opponents say harassment and assault are already illegal and strictly punished, and contend there have been few reported problems with the rules since they took effect.

Supporters of the HRC rule say allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity protects them from harassment and health problems.

The U.S. Transgender Survey reports 59 percent of more than 27,000 transgender people who responded to their 2015 poll said they had avoided bathrooms in the previous year because they were scared of confrontations.

About 12 percent reported being harassed, attacked or sexually assaulted in a bathroom in the previous year and 8 percent reported a kidney or urinary tract infection from avoiding bathrooms.

Had the measure reached the ballot, Kirby said, it would have been the first of its kind up for a statewide vote.

That I-1552 failed “just really shows people here in Washington believe in liberty and equality and treating other people as they would like to be treated,” he said.

Haver said Just Want Privacy got roughly 240,000 signatures, about 20,000 short of the required amount.

“We exceeded last year’s total by over 20,000 signatures, and we know that so many more people throughout the state would be willing to sign if given the chance, but the truth is that we simply couldn’t reach them in time,” she said.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein