Danni Askini, far right, marching with Seattles transgender pride march last year.
Danni Askini, far right, marching with Seattle's transgender pride parade last year. Ansel Herz

On Wednesday, a state senate committee passed SB 6433, a bill that would repeal the Washington State Human Rights Commission's new rule that protects transgender people using sex-segregated bathrooms. Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, attended the hearing. We spoke to Askini about what happens now, and what the public testimony she heard yesterday means for transgender people in Washington State.

What impact would this bill have on the trans community in Washington State?

SB 6433 would repeal the rule that the Washington Human Rights Commission upheld that protects transgender people in sex-segregated bathrooms and other sex-segregated facilities. And it would basically give permission to any business, person, school, hospital, store—it could be any place outside of your house—to single out transgender people and force them to use bathrooms that are inconsistent with the gender identity that they live everyday. So force trans women to use the men's room, force trans men to use the women's room. Or, furthermore, force them to use segregated facilities. It also bars the Human Rights Commission from ever issuing any rules in the future, so it basically bars them from doing their legally appointed job.

You were at the hearing yesterday. What was the biggest argument you heard for the bill again and again?

What I heard over and over is that, that people feel allowing transgender people into bathrooms will allow predators, pedophiles, and people who commit sexual assault to "sneak their way in" and assault, harass, or peep on people. So it's this sort of idea that the mere presence of transgender people is dangerous. And we somehow "open the door" to people doing bad things. A lot of it focused specifically on the idea that transgender people will commit sexual assault.

Tell us about rates of sexual assault in the trans community, where transgender people are victims of sexual assault.

One, according to the Department of Justice, the national crime victims study from 2009 to 2013, 82 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger. Meaning, 82 percent of sexual assaults in America were perpetrated by someone you knew, as opposed to this narrative of "stranger danger." And then 51 percent, also according to the Department of Justice, 51 percent of transgender people have been victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives.

That's extraordinarily high.

Even the rates of domestic violence, rates of murder of transgender women is significantly higher. Transgender women are far more likely to be murdered than cis-gendered women. It's a lot. Last year, 25 transgender women were murdered. This year, I think this year already three transgender women have been murdered. It's incredibly high.

Do you think the two issues are linked? People calling transgender people deviants or suggesting that they might commit sexual assault, and then transgender people experiencing some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country?

I think the stereotypes that we're seeing in these hearings are the exact reasons we need these protections, honestly. There's a fundamental misunderstanding of who transgender people are, and perpetuating these narratives—the "stranger danger" narrative, that transgender people are scary, or violent, or scary to be around—is at the core of, you know, we see immense amounts of discrimination. There is this incredible discomfort in our culture with transgender people. And yeah, it does really get to the core of that. I think it is why we're hearing that here. All this causes a huge amount of future violence against transgender people. The rates of general assault are also immensely high.

Who are some of your biggest supporters in the Legislature, in the community, in the city, who are fighting against this bill?

Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has been doing a really incredible job. She said she will not allow any of these bills that actually come before committee to have a hearing. And that is I think pretty incredible. The other folks, there was Senator Karen Keiser (D-Kent) yesterday, who was just incredible. She really held some people's feet to the fire and asked some pretty pointed questions. There was a police officer and a current investigator who testified and he repeatedly said this bill would allow perpetrators of sexual assault into bathrooms. She really pushed him very hard. She said, "You're not saying that transgender are more likely to commit violence, is that correct?" And then he said, "No, I'm not." She was really good. She pushed back on a lot of the lies, and frankly false assertions that they made.

So how do you feel at this point, given that Jinkins has committed to not giving these bills a hearing on the house floor?

We feel pretty strongly that these bills won't make it through the House. We're now up to five bills. We found out there was another house bill that was introduced yesterday, a companion bill to SB 6443. So yesterday we only had four bills. But we feel pretty confident that the house is going to hold strong and not allow any of these bills to pass. But it is doing very real damage to the trans community, especially to trans youth, to hear this endless testimony that trans people are dangerous and associating us with pedophiles and perpetrators of sexual assault. It's doing very real harm and scaring the shit out of the entire community. People are really afraid to use public facilities, because now with five bills in the legislature, it feels like there's permission—like open season for people to harass and malign trans people with access to public facilities. So what I've heard from a lot of people is even that even though these bills probably won't make it through the house, and certainly hopefully Governor Inslee would veto them, people are feeling really afraid. It's a very well-coordinated and specific attack by Republicans to score political points with their conservative base at the expense of trans people's safety. These bills are doing damage, these public hearings are doing damage. It's giving voice to bigots even if the bills don't pass. And, you know, one of the senators yesterday, in executive session, Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), the chair of the committee, basically made the threat of a statewide initiative in his closing remarks. I watched the video on TVW, and he basically says, ultimately the people of Washington should vote on this issue. Which, to me, is Republicans saying they should try to run a ballot initiative. It's just incredible, and not surprising. That will have, I think devastating impacts on transgender people across the state.

What can we do?

I think the most important thing to do is one, have people follow WAsafealliance.org, so that people know when there's a hearing, when there's a call to action, sort of what's going on and staying informed about next steps. I think that's a really important thing for folks do. And then I think having people call their senators and try to stop these bills on the floor is I think a really clear opportunity for, you know, especially in eastern King County, there are a lot of moderate Republicans. I think it's an opportunity for people to stand on the right side of history. And ask their senators not to stand for bigotry and discrimination. [Find your legislator.]

Is there anything we didn't discuss that you think is important to add?

The other piece of takeaway from the testimony, for me, what I found profoundly powerful was hearing the parents of transgender young people, there were two of them, talk about how devastating this would be for their daughters, one seven years old, one 11. And hearing one dad get choked up, talking about: "How I supposed to tell my daughter the Washington State legislature thinks she's a danger to other people and is going to force her into the men's room?" And similarly there was a mother from Spokane who similarly said her daughter already feels singled out and forcing her to use the men's room with strangers is a horrifying idea for her. And I think that part of the conversation—there are literally hundreds of transgender people in Washington State. And this bill will force transgender girls, transgender boys, people under 18 have no access to surgery in Washington State, because the medical age of consent is 18, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards of care also say wait until you're 18. And so all of those young people are likely to be really the victims of these bills. These bills 100 percent will be doing horrible things for our transgender young people.

And I think that my experience of coming out, the background of when I came out in high school, was the same exact battle in 1998 around the statewide nondiscrimination laws, which was repealed by voters at the ballot box, which sent a really clear signal to the bullies in my high school that I was fair game. That I could be targeted. And consequently I was the victim of three hate crimes. And I think that legislators have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable in their society, and they do not realize that their grandstanding for political points has incredibly real harm for people. Especially young people. And I still live with those scars. Watching that ballot initiative—it failed on February 8, 1998—I was a sophomore in high school, and statewide nondiscrimination failed at the ballot box. And three days later is when I was the victim of a hate crime. And I think that legislators make this a hypothetical, theoretical issue, but the impact on trans people is going to be incredibly real and profound.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.