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Senate panel passes reversal of transgender bathroom rule

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.

Kathryn Mahan testified that she came out as transgender five years ago and said she is not a safety risk to others.

“If you pass this bill, it will be possible for anyone who doesn’t like me to harass me when I’m using the restroom,” she said. “Tell me, how do I prove that I have female genitals?”

A bill in the House, House Bill 2782, would prohibit people from entering gender-segregated bathrooms that don’t align with their male or female “anatomy” or “DNA,” as defined by the bill. But Rep. Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat from Tacoma who is chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that measure won’t get a hearing before her committee, meaning it couldn’t ever become law.

Jinkins said she doesn’t support legislation to reverse the Human Rights Commission’s policy change.

Not many people in the U.S. who identify as transgender undergo surgery to change their genitals, according to a 2011 survey of 6,450 people by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. About 6 percent of transgender people surveyed had some type of female-to-male procedure and about 23 percent have had some form of male-to-female surgeries.

Askini said people under 18 largely don’t have access to gender-reassignment surgery.

Ericksen on Tuesday described his bill as a compromise compared to the bill in the House, because it would allow local jurisdictions and businesses to decide a policy that works best for them.

“The state shouldn’t have a mandate on men using the women’s locker room,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Paul MacLurg, the owner of Thrive Community Fitness in Lacey, testified he and staff try hard to protect women from unwanted advances and gawking from men at his gym. Before the commission’s rule he could use his best judgment when allowing people into locker rooms, he said.

“Now I have no good choices,” he said, later adding he has a private restroom and locker room that transgender people can use.

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