Effort to overturn transgender bathroom rule falls short


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A group seeking to repeal a Washington state rule allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify failed to collect enough signatures to qualify a ballot measure for the November ballot but says it is not giving up on efforts to change the regulation.

The group supporting the proposed Initiative 1515 cancelled a Friday morning appointment to turn in signatures. In order to qualify for the ballot, 246,372 valid signatures of registered state voters are required for initiatives.

According to the Just Want Privacy website, they had collected just 190,985 signatures, far short of the 325,000 the secretary of state’s office recommends, in case of any duplicate or invalid signatures.

Sarah McBride, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, said that the failure by Just Want Privacy “underscores the fact that extreme anti-LGBT activists are overestimating the public’s opposition to trans rights and they’re also overestimating their own base’s passion on this issue.”

Initiative sponsor Joseph Backholm did not return messages seeking comment, but the campaign posted a note on its website saying that it “will not give up the fight to protect the state’s girls and women and is considering all of its options for repealing the “Open Locker Room” rule.”

“The current law is grotesquely dangerous and in need of dramatic revision,” the statement says. “We should have this issue on our minds when we vote this November because a more thoughtful legislature could solve this problem without the challenges of putting an issue on the ballot.”

The initiative push came following news that a state regulation took effect in December that requires buildings open to the public — including schools — to allow transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with. The state Human Rights Commission said the new rule was a clarification of the state’s existing anti-discrimination law that added transgender people as a protected class in 2006. The commission was created by the Legislature and is responsible for administering and enforcing that law.

In February, the state Senate narrowly rejected a bill that would have repealed the rule. Three Republicans, the chamber’s majority party, joined many Democrats in rejecting the measure on a 25-24 vote.

Washington is among 18 states and scores of cities that have public accommodation laws that protect transgender people, McBride said. On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill to expand anti-discrimination protections for the state’s transgender residents and allow them to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities. That law takes effect Oct. 1.

Also Friday, 10 states sued the federal government over rules requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms conforming to their gender identity, joining 11 states that had previously sued in May. North Carolina officials also sued the federal government in May over the same issue. Earlier this year, North Carolina lawmakers passed a law which limits protections for LGBT people and requires transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. The law is the subject of dueling state and federal lawsuits.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Nebraska and included nine other states: Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

McBride said that she expects a number of anti-LGBT bills to reappear next year as state legislatures convene.

“I think that there’s no question that we’re still in the middle of a concerted, organized effort to target the transgender community,” she said. “It’s certainly not over. But I think the country is changing, and changing rapidly.”

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This story has been updated to note the correct the name of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.

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