Most people are comfortable with the gender they are assigned at birth, but that is not true for everyone. I’m someone who has never fit that group.
Eventually I transitioned — changing my name and appearance — so I could live life every day as my authentic self. I’m fortunate in having lived a relatively stable life, but poverty and homelessness is especially prevalent in the transgender community, with 30 percent of us nationwide having been homeless at some time.
Through the years, I’ve come to know the transgender people impacted and have realized that we face not so much a homelessness problem as a hospitality problem.
I’ve always believed that “where there is room in the heart there is room in the home.” So I opened up my little bungalow in order to share it with those in need, many of them fleeing the wrath of family members.
Trans women have stayed there for days, months and sometimes years, with as many as 10 people bunking down in a house built for two.
We are not a drop-in center or a crash pad, but a launching pad for personal transformation, starting with thrift store shopping to secure new wardrobes. We experience hardships, but we share them; we not only get by, but thrive, constantly in awe of the support we receive from outsiders.
While the love and kindness that surrounds us is inspiring, 2017 already has been an especially hard year. There have been politicians who have demonized us nationally and organizations that are working nonstop to restrict our common human rights here in Washington.
Now, all eyes are once again on our state with another discriminatory ballot initiative, I-1552, that seems headed to our November ballot. If a petition signature gatherer asks you to sign I-1552, I ask you to “Decline to Sign” because it would:
● Allow places of public accommodation — including businesses — to discriminate by banning transgender people from using gender-segregated facilities that are consistent with who they are
● Interfere with local control, preventing voters, cities and counties from passing or enforcing ordinances or policies protecting transgender people from discrimination in gender-segregated facilities
● Allow authorities to ignore legally-changed birth certificates and government-issued documents, potentially requiring transgender people and others to submit to invasions of privacy just to use the appropriate restroom
● Require our public schools to discriminate against transgender students by denying them access to gender-segregated facilities that are consistent with who they are. And it opens the floodgates to unnecessary lawsuits and bounty hunting by encouraging K-12 students to sue schools for a minimum of $5,000 every time they encounter a transgender student in a gender-segregated facility.
Under the false claim of addressing “safety for women and children,” this mean-spirited proposal singles out transgender people for discrimination.
I-1552 won’t increase safety, in fact, it will make things worse for everyone. It’s already illegal to enter a restroom or locker room to harm someone. Washington’s non-discrimination laws don’t change that.
Any predator who tries to harm someone can and should be arrested and prosecuted.
But, by encoding discrimination into our state’s laws, I-1552 will only make things worse for everyone by encouraging more invasions of privacy and harassment. This law could pave the way for criminals and predators to abuse the law and demand that a woman or young girl submit to a visual inspection or pat-down in order to use the restroom. I-1552 is designed to make it impossible for transgender people like me to go about our daily lives like other people. For example, a transgender woman would face additional harassment and assault if she was forced to use the men’s room, but would risk arrest and prosecution if she used the women’s room.
That’s not hospitality, it’s discrimination, and I-1552 is contrary to everything I’ve learned to love and respect about my fellow Washingtonians. I ask you to tell signature gatherers no and decline to sign I-1552.
Learn more on NoOn1552.
Amy Colbert is a transgender woman who has opened her home to others in need of housing and support.