For many people, using a public restroom does not require much thought or effort. But for transgender people in Washington state, the basic human need to use a restroom has shifted into a political act that has been fought for fiercely, particularly during this session of the Washington State Legislature.
On Feb. 10, the Washington State Senate rejected a bill that would have forced residents to use bathrooms aligned with their gender assigned at birth rather than their identified gender.
In a 25-24 vote, the Republican controlled Senate voted to maintain the 2015 regulation made by the state’s Human Rights Commission early this year — a policy that clarifies the 2006 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodation.
The vote was a major win for advocates in Olympia, but their work will continue throughout this session with five other bills the Legislature is considering that could infringe on the rights of transgender people.
“All [the bills] take very different approaches to essentially prevent transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the gender they live as every day,” said Danni Askini, executive director of Gender Justice League, a Washington state trans and allied activist collective. “These bills are predicated off of a false notion that somehow the presence of transgender people puts other people at risk, and that’s obviously just false.”
Many people, the majority of them being Republicans, who are in favor of turning these bills into law claim that people could be traumatized or harassed by transgender people in restrooms or locker rooms.
Yet, 50 to 60 percent of transgender people themselves have experienced violence, harassment and discrimination in places of public accommodation, Askini said.
“That would certainly increase if transgender people were not allowed to choose the facilities that were safest for them,” explained Askini.
The recent vote striking down the bathroom bill shows that there is bipartisan support for transgender rights, but there are still hurdles in the way.
“It has been difficult to reach those lawmakers who are unwilling to listen or hear what the experiences of transgender people are, and that is really disappointing,” Askini said.
Askini and other advocates view these bills as a chance for representatives and the public to shed misunderstandings of transgender people.
“Transgender people are a part of the fabric of our community. They are our neighbors, family members; they go to church with us; they go to our schools,” she said. “They don’t pose any danger and protecting their civil rights is really important value that we have here at Washington state.”