News (USA)

Senate panel passes reversal of transgender bathroom rule

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill that would eliminate Washington’s new rule allowing transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms in public buildings consistent with their gender identity passed out of a Senate committee 4-3 Wednesday.

Democratic Senators Bob Hasegawa of Seattle and Steve Conway of Tacoma voted against the bill, saying the rule, created by the state Human Rights Commission, was protecting civil rights. Sen. Karen Keiser, a Kent Democrat, also voted against the measure.

But chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said anyone interpreting the elimination of the policy as “some kind of judgment or castigation of the transgender community,” would be wrong. Baumgartner and many at an earlier hearing argued against the existing policy, saying people might use it to sexually assault women.

Others at the hearing said reversing it would victimize transgender people. Baumgartner estimated around 300 people at the overflowing hearing signed in to testify on the issue.

The bathroom policy took effect Dec. 26. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale is sponsoring Senate Bill 6443 to get rid of it.

There are “very strong laws on the books that already say it’s illegal if people enter a restroom to harass, assault or invade the privacy of other people,” said Danni Askini, executive director of the Seattle-based Gender Justice League, in an interview before the hearing. Gender Justice League is a nonprofit organization that advocates for transgender people.

Sharon Ortiz, Human Rights Commission director, previously said the new rule was only a clarification of the state’s existing anti-discrimination law. Transgender rights are already protected under an addition to the 2006 Washington Law Against Discrimination, she said. The commission was created by the Legislature and is responsible for administering and enforcing that law.

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