How Washington Improved its Trans Protections and Beat the Right Wing

Kicking off the new year in style, Washington has quietly enacted broad public accommodations protections for trans people. But how was Washington able to do this without the significant resistance from anti-trans groups that we’ve seen in other states?

The change in language actually went into force as of December 26 and was instigated by the Washington State Human Rights Commission who sought to clarify the existing law that covers sexual orientation and gender expression or identity.

The change highlights that businesses with eight or more employees cannot discriminate against people on grounds of their gender identity or expression, also covering use of public accommodations like changing or washroom facilities. In addition, the clarification of existing law means that all school students should be given the option of using the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity and in most cases should also be given access to the locker room that corresponds with their gender identity.

The Human Rights Commission change also now expressly forbids discrimination on grounds of gender identity and clarifies what counts as harassment, saying:

2) Prohibited conduct. Prohibited conduct may include, but is not limited to, the following:
(a) Asking unwelcome personal questions about an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender transition;
(b) Intentionally causing distress to an individual by disclosing the individual’s sexual orientation against his or her wishes;
(c) Using offensive names, slurs, jokes, or terminology regarding an individual’s sexual orientation;
(d) The deliberate misuse of an individual’s preferred name, form of address, or gender-related pronoun (except on official documentation, if the individual has not officially obtained a name change);
(e) Posting offensive pictures or sending offensive electronic or other communications;
(f) Unwelcome physical conduct.

To be clear, Republican and religious conservative voices are decrying this move with the religious conservative Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal quick to imply that this change was done behind closed doors in a way that meant that no opposing voices could be heard. For that, they have gone to Rep. Graham Hunt (R) who says that he is planning legislation to undercut this change.

His bill specifically grants public and private entities the right to limit sex-specific facilities to “be segregated by gender if the person is preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise has genitalia of a different gender from that for which the facility is segregated.”

“With this bill that I will be putting public, I’ve really tried to make this nonpartisan and as common sense as possible,” Hunt said. “There has been such an outcry from the public saying, ‘What are we doing … how is it that their rights trump my rights.’”

There’s blatant anti-trans memes in Hunt’s words, as well as a flagrantly unconstitutional standard in the proposed legislation: you cannot demand information about someone’s genitals prior to them being able to use a restroom or changing facility. If he moves to require ID papers, this again is an unreasonable and dehumanizing burden that targets trans people on base of their gender without a justifiable cause given that no trans policies have ever led to widescale abuse.

This fight back was to be expected though, and although support for trans rights among Democratic legislators can still be unpredictable, it would seem a Republican attempt to undercut Washington’s new trans rights boost would meet strong resistance given the numbers of Democrats in the legislature–and particularly so if people make their voices heard in support of the trans-inclusive policy.

What’s more interesting here though is that the fight back comes after the fact of the change. Every time a trans rights policy has come up recently religious conservatives have used anti-trans scaremongering and outright lies to fight the inclusive laws and policies. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the public vote against Houston’s HERO, an ordinance that would have benefited several groups but one the Right was able to defeat last year by conflating trans people with sex offenders. However, in this case the Human Rights Commission didn’t need the legislature and so didn’t fall prey to this same kind of campaigning.

The Human Rights Commission is empowered by the state legislature to enforce and even to a certain extent interpret provisions in the state Human Rights Act. That means that it is capable of making this kind of policy change so long as it is germane to the language already provided it by the legislature. Given that the federal government is also interpreting existing sex protections to cover gender identity and expression, and how arguably there is an overlap with sexual orientation anyway, and not to mention the existing state law, it seems the Human Rights Commission is on safe ground here. What’s more, it has created a change that is harder to fight after the fact, and particularly if LGBT rights groups do not let what happened in Houston–namely allowing the Right to control political messaging–happen again.

It’s worth pointing out that this change marks one of the most comprehensive trans rights protection policies in the country, and the quiet way it was brought about may signal to some other states with similar agencies and existing nondiscrimination laws how they might also institute trans rights protections rather than having to go through a costly and even harmful legislative battle.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

38 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Roberto M.
Past Member 1 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 1 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 1 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 1 years ago

THANKS

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BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Flagged Ammy T. [four days ago] Non-relevant posting, NO profile, probable deceptive Spam. However "nice" it sounds. Can mess up your computer if you take the bait.....

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Donna T.
Donna T1 years ago

thank you

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Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

The evidence of civilisation

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Peggy B.
Peggy B1 years ago

Well done.

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ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA S1 years ago

noted

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